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An Age of Criticism 




University of Minnesota 


University of Wisconsin 

Fifty Years of American Drama, 1900-1950 
by ALAN s. DOWNER, of Princeton University 

The Modern Novel in America, 1900-1950 


Achievement in American Poetry, 1900-1950 
by LOUISE BOGAN, poet and critic 

The Short Story in America, 1900-1950 
by RAY B. WEST, JR., of the University of Iowa 

An Age of Criticism, 1900-1950 


American Non-Fiction, 1900-1950 
by MAY BRODBECK, of the University of Minnesota 
JAMES GRAY, of the University of Minnesota 
WALTER METZGER, of Columbia University 

An Age of Criticism 


William Van O'Connor 

University of Minnesota 


CHICAGO : 1952 

Copyright 1952 

Chicago 4, Illinois 

Manufactured in the United States of America 



THE ARGUMENT or controlling idea in the fol- 
lowing chapters is, I hope, clear. Perhaps only as a Platonic 
essence or Idea is there such a thing as pure literary criti- 
cism, but insofar as there is, it is concerned with the struc- 
ture of the literary work, the way meaning and emotion 
are discovered in their appropriately imagined and created 
forms. Certain critics, like Henry James and Joel Spingarn, 
manage to stay close to pure criticism, or at least to urge 
upon other critics that this is their essential task, and a 
number of the analytical critics associated with the move- 
ment called the "new criticism" have striven to make this 
their primary function. Unfortunately, the limits beyond 
which the pure critic should not venture are not easily de- 
fined. Literature is concerned with ideas (or what some 
aestheticians call "life values") as well as with forms, and 
they exert a pull away from the literary object toward phi- 
losophy, or politics, or ethics, or social questions. Thus one 
finds criticism that concentrates primarily on milieu or 
ethics or politics, using the literary work largely as a step- 
ping-off point into a discussion, for example, of the national 
mind, or into a justification of, or pleading for, certain 
ethical, political, or social views. In such instances the lit- 
erary work is often praised or berated on the grounds of 
its serving or not serving a cause, and it tends to disappear 
as a literary object. But when such criticism manages to 
stay close to the literary work itself, its value resides in 
showing how factors out of a milieu or principles from an 


ethical system quicken the literary work. The job of such 
a literary history as this, therefore, is to describe the gen- 
eral character of various critical movements, to observe as 
far as possible the degree of success and failure engendered 
by specific methods. Again, the individual critic does not 
always fit easily into one category or another and some- 
times he turns up in two or three different groups or move- 

Another problem in writing such a history as this is that 
American literature from the 1890'$ to about 1920, espe- 
cially as it includes minor literary figures, is a kind of twi- 
light period. There are no detailed or full-length studies 
of the "genteel tradition" in its own terms, nor as it has 
been interpreted by twentieth-century writers of liberal 
persuasions. Nor are there detailed studies of the influence 
of nineteenth-century European modernism on American 
writers prior to World War I especially modernism in 
its self-consciously sophisticated and cosmopolitan lines. 
Again, almost no attention has been given to the influence 
of such French critics as Hippolyte Taine and Ferdinand 
Brunetiere. Therefore, anyone attempting to indicate the 
way in which literary criticism has been affected by these 
major movements and influences is in danger of falling into 
errors that subsequent study of a more detailed kind will 

For the most part, the works of criticism I have not men- 
tioned or discussed belong to two groups: scholarly or his- 
torical studies, in which there is a considerable amount of 
criticism, and analytical criticism or detailed studies of lit- 
erary works. The bulk of the former prohibits such atten- 
tion, and similarly, the number of analytical studies is so 
great that only the major texts and the general issues could 
be treated. 


Among those who have helped me in the writing of this 
study I am especially indebted to Frederick ]. Hoffman, 
Joseph Kwiat, Robert Penn Warren, Theodore Horn- 
berger, Henry Nash Smith, and Robert Spiller. Two of 
these sections, in somewhat different form, appeared in 
the New Mexico Quarterly and in College English. 






















INDEX 177 




term ''genteel tradition*' resists easy 
and neat definition. Apparently coined by George Santa- 
yana, it was taken up quickly by critics and novelists inter- 
ested in loosening the American mores. In the period before 
and after World War I, it became a term of opprobrium. 
Sinclair Lewis, in his Nobel Prize speech in 1930, could use 
William Dean Howells and the genteel tradition as the re- 
actionary enemy over which the liberal and realistic writers 
had won their now officially recognized victory. In his own 
period, however, Howells had helped win a victory for real- 
ism, had sponsored (although somewhat reluctantly) the ac- 
ceptance of a novelist like Emile Zola, and had encouraged 
young Stephen Crane. One begins to suspect that there are 
two genteel traditions: the one that might exist for the dis- 
interested historian and the one that was mythologized by 


Lewis and his contemporaries. This is not to say, of course, 
that the contemporaries of Lewis were wholly imagining 
their enemy in order to give an air of valorous achievement 
to their own work. They did create a rather grotesque effigy 
of the genteel writer and critic, but it was true that the 
group they opposed, insofar as it was homogeneous, 1 did 
not encourage the expression in literature of the bristling 
vigor, the commercialization, the scheming and plodding 
in American life, or of the realist and pragmatic forms of 
idealism that developed out of this part of the American 
mind. Many members of the group that Lewis was attack- 
ing did look upon themselves as part of an aristocracy of 
culture and intellect and even as a distinct social class. By 
and large, the tradition they supported came out of New 
England and had in it the idealism of Ralph Waldo Emer- 
son as modified by the generations of the cultivated that 
had followed him. Even though the group's assurance that 
they were the representatives and arbiters of culture seems 
supercilious and arbitrary to a later generation, it must 
be recognized that they usually believed themselves to be 
following some such doctrine as Emerson's on the "inner 
light/' and that they looked upon themselves as eminently 
moral. In fact, if there is one characteristic that can be said 
to pervade all others, it is their moral sense. Aesthetic, in- 
tellectual, economic, and political considerations are almost 
invariably bathed in the light of ethical considerations. This 
fact undoubtedly controls what a later generation of read- 
ers likely to see as the peculiarly idealistic tone with which 
they discuss all subjects, whether it be environmental fac- 
tors in literature, scientific procedures in writing criticism, 
or a determination to write realistically. 

1 One of the difficulties in generalizing about the group is that it was not 
of one mind about all of the characteristics one may justly label "genteel." 


Such a tone is pervasive in almost all of the essays in an 
anthology edited by William Morton Payne, American Lit- 
erary Criticism. 2 It is evident, for example, in the selection 
from The Nature and Elements of Poetry (1892) by Ed- 
mund Clarence Stedman, who prided himself on the scien- 
tific foundations of his criticism: 

Distinction ever hath been achieved through some form of 
faith, and even the lesser poets have won their respective meas- 
ures of success, other things being equal, in proportion to their 
amount of trust in certain convictions as to their art, themselves 
and the "use of it all." The serene forms of faith in deity, justice, 
nationality, religion, human nature, which have characterized 
men of the highest rank, are familiar to you. . . . Homer cheer- 
fully recognizes the high gods as the inspirers and regulators of 
all human action. 

And the tone is evident in the selection from Criticism and 
Fiction (1891) by William Dean Howells, a critic who be- 
lieved that literature should tell the truth and whose dictum 
was: "Realism is nothing more and nothing less than the 
truthful treatment of material." Howells is writing about 

To the heart again of serious youth uncontaminate and exigent 
of ideal good, it must always be a grief that the great masters 

2 (New York, Longmans, 1904.) This collection, which includes only the 
work of critics born before 1850, affords an easy way of seeing the major 
lines in late nineteenth-century criticism. Payne recalls that Edgar Allan 
Poe, insofar as he had a single master, derived from Samuel Taylor Cole- 
ridge; that the early Dial (1842-44) gave such critics as Emerson, Margaret 
Fuller, and George Ripley a vehicle for "their idealism, their impatience of 
tradition, their zeal for intellectual discovery, and their passion for political 
reform"; that James Russell Lowell, despite his keen intellect and occasional 
valuable insights, was without method or direction in his criticism; that 
Sidney Lanier strove, but with only limited success, to give a scientific basis 
to the study of verse and the novel; and that a critic like Hamilton Wright 
Mabie "has been unwearying in exhorting us to keep in touch with our 
Homer and Plato, with our Dante and Shakespeare and Goethe." 


seem so often to have been willing to amuse the leisure and 
vacancy of mean men, and leave their mission to the soul but 
partially fulfilled. . . . Few consciences, at times, seem so en- 
lightened as that of this personally unknown person, so with- 
drawn into his work, and so lost to the intensest curiosity of 
after time; at other times he seems merely Elizabethan in his 
coarseness, his courtliness, his imperfect sympathy. 

Around Howells when he was associated with The At- 
lantic Monthly (1866-81) was a group of critics dedicated 
to sponsoring realism in fiction. 3 It is interesting to observe 
how frequently their nominal or intended acceptance of 
realism threatens to, or actually does, become an adverse 
criticism of it. Thus, Thomas Sergeant Perry says that the 
melancholy of Turgenyev is "to be explained by some per- 
sonal, immediate cause, [rather] than by his wilful con- 
tempt for the great laws which have made literature the 
consolation that it is." He then explains that "despair . . . 
is not what readers want . . . ," but rather a way of escaping 
"the harassing, sordid cares of the world." Literature should 
show the inevitable progress that is the reward of human 
struggle. Perry and some of his colleagues would have fic- 
tion describe the everyday world, but they wished that only 
optimistic and hopeful themes be used to interpret and, 
therefore, to soften any harshness that the improperly tu- 
tored mind might infer. 

The aspirations and attitudes of the genteel writers, from 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Henry van Dyke, Lewis's 
immediate opponent, differ with each individual; but com- 
mon to almost all are a kind of melancholy optimism, a 

3 There is a valuable survey of this group by Dorothy M. Forbis in a 
University of Texas M.A. dissertation (1942), "The Concept of Realism in 
the School of Howells." Members of the group included R. M. Keeler, Har- 
riet W. Preston, Edwin P. Whipple, Thomas W. Higginson, Horace Scud- 
der, H. T. Tuckerman, and Thomas Sergeant Perry. 


wan elegance, and an unwillingness or sometimes a strong- 
minded refusal to discuss the gross, the vulgar, the indec- 
orous. The element of melancholy in the optimism prob- 
ably derived from the deliberate and therefore frequently 
unnatural cheerfulness. Again, the melancholy was inevi- 
table in a literature that preferred not to involve itself with 
the subject of ineradicable and pervasive evil, with the tragic 
view. Van Dyke referred to poetry as "idealism set to music." 
And in some of the poetry and criticism, at least, man's chief 
aspiration seems to be to turn ethereal and insubstantial. 

By and large, the criticism leveled against the genteel cri- 
tics by a Marxist writer in the 1930'$ seems to be true. He 
found that despite occasional promises to relate literature 
to American environment, the genteel critics generally ig- 
nored environmental factors and instead abstracted litera- 
ture from life, associating it with genteel forms of idealism. 
He might have added that when they treat environmental 
forces, the harsher aspects seem not to obtain. He found that 
they had a respect for tradition that precluded acceptance of 
the new or experimental. (He might have added that their 
respect for the cultural tradition of which they saw them- 
selves as the custodians often tricked them into pompous 
stylistic mannerisms and terribly solemn assertions about 
human dignity.) He also found that the tradition implied 
a provincialism that assumed American culture was British 
and was transmitted to the rest of the country through the 
good offices of New England. 4 

4 Useful but diverse accounts of the genteel spirit are to be found in the 
following: G. E. De Mille, Literary Criticism in America (New York, Long- 
mans, 1931); Ludwig Lewisohn, Story of American Literature (New York, 
Random House, 1939); F. I. Carpenter, "The Genteel Tradition: A Rein- 
terpretation," New England Quarterly, XV (September 1942), 427-43; Wil- 
lard Thorp, "Defenders of Ideality," Literary History of the United States, 
ed. Robert Spiller, et al. (New York, Macmillan, 1948), pp. 809-26; Howard 
Mumford Jones, The Theory of American Literature (Ithaca, N. Y., Cornell 


Because of this New England provincialism the genteel 
tradition made its way easily in the schools and colleges* 
Lowell, to whom George Woodberry, Hamilton Wright 
Mabie, Charles Eliot Norton, and later the New Humanists 
were indebted, had taught modern languages at Harvard. 
Professor Fred Lewis Pattee once proposed that Barrett 
Wendell's A Literary History of America (1900) be retitled 
A Literary History of Harvard College, with Incidental 
Glimpses of the Minor Writers of America. Similar in tone, 
however, were such Eastern professors as William Peterfield 
Trent, author of A History of American Literature, 1607- 
1865 (1903) and Brander Matthews, author of innumerable 
volumes. Similar, too, were many of the leading editors and 
critics outside the academy: Bayard Taylor, Richard Stod- 
dard, William Winter, at whom H. L. Mencken liked to 
poke fun, and Richard Watson Gilder, a special target of 
Vance Thompson and the aesthetes. 

To account fully for the origins of and the reasons for 
maintaining the attitudes common to the genteel critics 
would be extremely difficult for the obvious reason that 
human motives can be complex and are often obscure. In- 
evitably behind some of the attitudes were prejudices or 
biases of various sorts, such as for Anglo-Saxondom and the 
culture of New England, for one's own social or economic 
class, for one's own philosophical tenets or aesthetic prin- 
ciples, or for a combination of them. William Charvat, a 

Univ. Press, 1948); After the Genteel Tradition: American Writers Since 
1910, ed. Malcolm Cowley (New York, Norton, 1937); Arthur Hobson 
Quinn, "The Foundations of American Criticism," The Literature of the 
American People (New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951), pp. 384-423. 


careful student of an early period in nineteenth-century 
American criticism, 5 lists a number of attitudes or prin- 
ciples which he found pervading critical literature, and 
which the twentieth century was to label "genteel." In other 
words, some of the genteel attitudes, among them the fol- 
lowing, are of long standing: 

Literature must not contain anything derogatory, implicitly or 
explicitly, to religious ideals and moral standards. 

Literature should be optimistic: it should not condone philo- 
sophical pessimism or skepticism. 

Such terms as "discipline," "restraint," and "idealism" oc- 
cur commonly in the literature of the period. 

In his account of the general pattern of early nineteenth- 
century criticism, Charvat says that the critic almost in- 
variably saw his primary function to be the protection of 
the established social order. Literature was not to question 
religious ideals or standards because individuals lack "the 
judgement to decide between right and wrong" and reli- 
gion is "the disciplinary force which makes social life pos- 
sible." Literature was to foster optimism because gloom was 
thought to be a selfish thing, "a product of too much intro- 
version and a lack of proper social feeling." Much of the 
criticism, as Charvat demonstrates, was written by men who 
had a stake in keeping the social order stable, and it is quite 
possible that behind the attitudes or principles of their criti- 
cism were economic or social interests. To some extent such 
interests undoubtedly influenced later critics like Gilder or 
W. C. Brownell. But, as George Santayana has suggested, 
other motives must have operated also. And, while we are 

6 The Origins of American Critical Thought, 1810-1835 (Philadelphia, 
Univ. of Pa. Press, 1936). 


concerned with the motives behind principles, we should 
observe that Santayana's own view, which is not a very sym- 
pathetic one, comes out of a Spanish and Catholic tradition, 
which prevented his assimilating or even accepting the New 
England world in which he grew up. Primarily, Santayana 
has looked for motives related to the religious inheritances 
and the philosophical antecedents of the genteel tradition. 

In "The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy," 
given as a lecture in 1911 and then incorporated into Winds 
of Doctrine (1913), Santayana makes the point that America 
at the end of the nineteenth century was a young country 
with an old mentality. Industrially and socially it was a new 
country, but in its emotions, literature, and philosophy it 
was trying to live with the doctrines of its fathers. No phi- 
losophy, he continues, is genuine that does not express the 
deepest feelings of those who hold it. The wisdom of the 
genteel tradition therefore seems "thin and verbal, not 
aware of its full meaning and grounds." It had left a part 
of the American mind floating "gently in the backwater, 
while alongside, in invention and industry and social or- 
ganization the other half of the mind was leaping down a 
sort of Niagara Rapids." 

In this essay as well as in The Genteel Tradition at Bay 
(1931), he makes a good deal, not without a little malice, 
of the religious and philosophical origins of the tradition. 
One of the elements which colonial America had inherited 
was the "agonized conscience" of Calvinism, out of which 
had come three major assertions: 

that sin exists, that sin is punished, and that it is beautiful that 
sin should exist to be punished. The heart of Calvinism is there- 
fore divided between its tragic concern at its own miserable con- 
dition, and tragic exultation about the universe at large. . . . 
Human nature, it feels, is totally depraved: to have the instincts 


and motives that we necessarily have is a great scandal, and we 
must suffer for it; but that scandal is requisite, since otherwise 
the serious importance of being as we ought to be would not 
have been vindicated. 

But by the middle of the nineteenth century, he continues, 
Americans had lost the sense that men and God are natural 
enemies, that man is depraved. The American had become 
convinced "that he always had been, and always will be, 
victorious and blameless." The sense of propriety, for ex- 
ample, remained, but its original justification had largely 
disappeared. And a considerable part of the changed atti- 
tude w&s owed to transcendentalism. 

Transcendentalism proper, Santayana said, is not a sys- 
tem of dogma, nor even a collection of facts; it is a method, 
a way of looking at the world out of self-conscious eyes. 
"Transcendentalism is systematic subjectivism." Emerson, 
who practiced the method in its purity, did not insist on 
his notions; he asked every morning, as it were, how the 
world appeared. He watched the energy or spirit of nature 
working in himself. In Nature, as their romantic impulse 
compelled them to emphasize it, transcendentalists like Em- 
erson found a kinship with their very own elements. In 
nature they found solace and refreshment. And in their de- 
sire to submerge or lose themselves in landscape, winds, or 
clouds they contributed another element to the genteel tra- 

Serious poetry, profound religion (Calvinism, for instance), are 
the joys of an unhappiness that confesses itself; but when a gen- 
teel tradition forbids people to confess that they are unhappy, 
serious poetry and profound religion are closed to them by that; 
and since human life, in its depths, cannot then express itself 
openly, imagination is driven for comfort into abstract arts, 
where human circumstances are lost sight of, and human prob- 
lems dissolve into a purer medium. 


By refusing to acknowledge evil or man's being caught in 
the "destructive element," the transcendentalists were limit- 
ing what one was free to acknowledge about his own nature. 
This fact caused the genteel critics no end of difficulty in 
having to avoid frank discussions of the human body, or, 
more specifically, of sex. 

Bliss Perry's Walt Whitman (1906), for example, has a 
Janus-faced treatment of "Calamus" and the general cele- 
bration of sex. Perry seems to have accepted Whitman's 
bragging about his six illegitimate children as fact. "In one 
sense, comment upon this phase of Whitman's life is as 
superfluous as it is painful. Sins against chastity bring their 
own punishment." But a page or so later these sins are ac- 
cepted as the source of the poetry: "Its roots are deep down 
in a young man's body and soul: a clean, sensuous body and 
a soul untroubled as yet by the darker mysteries." Except 
for his inability to come to terms with this question, Perry's 
book is valuable, a fair-minded evaluation of Whitman's 
work. In The American Mind (1912) he said that American 
literature might not be great but it at least has the virtue of 
being clean. After admitting that the critic is likely to tem- 
porize about the badness of much of our writing by em- 
phasizing certain non-literary values, he adds: 

Like the men and women described in Locker-Lampson's verses, 

. . . eat, and drink, and scheme, and plod 
They go to church on Sunday; 
And many are afraid of God 
And more of Mrs. Grundy. 

Now Mrs. Grundy is assuredly not the most desirable of literary 
divinities, but the student of classical literature can easily think 
of other divinities, celebrated in exquisite Greek and Roman 
verse, who are distinctly less desirable still. 


George Edward Woodberry, the student of Lowell and 
in turn the teacher of Joel Spingarn, protested the Ameri- 
can rejection of the nude in sculpture and painting, "for- 
feiting thereby the supreme of Greek genius and sanity, but 
to the prejudice, also, of human dignity, as it seems to me/' 
In America in Literature (1903), The Torch (1905), and 
Two Phases of Criticism (1914) he furnished clear exposi- 
tions of available critical methods and surveyed a good deal 
of the literature of his period. (His Collected Essays were 
published in six volumes in 1921.) But Woodberry's good 
will and emphasis on literature as the "treasury of man's 
spirit" and the means whereby we may discover "eternal 
reality" impelled him to move beyond discussion of given 
literary works to vague discussions of the ideal. It is clear 
also that he felt the genteel tradition, with which for the 
most part he was allied, was being killed by American in- 
difference to the life of idealism or the soul, as he under- 
stood these terms. 

Among the best of these critics was W. C. Brownell, who 
apparently wanted to be an American Matthew Arnold. 
After several years in France in an effort to assimilate a 
greater knowledge of European culture and of French art 
in particular, he wrote French Traits (i 889) and French Art 
(1892). Like Arnold, he was an apostle of culture and stand- 
ards and was concerned with culture in relation to de- 
mocracy. His comments on American in comparison with 
French culture strongly favor the French. The French gen- 
uinely accepted the Revolution, he said, and as a people 
held to the "reforming and revising instinct." Democracy 
in France had become a network through which the social 
instincts are free to flow. Society furnished the ideal, and 
the individual aspired to rise above his baser inclinations. 
Literature and art flourished because they served and were 


served by the society. If Americans were prepared to follow 
the implications of their belief in democracyto give them- 
selves to the life of the mind they would improve not only 
their art but their society. 

Brownell's best-known books are Victorian Prose Masters 
(1901) and American Prose Masters (1909). In these studies 
he frequently employed Sainte-Beuve's method of searching 
for the faculte maitresse, finding the key to John Ruskin, 
for example, in the "predominance of the emotional sense 
over the thinking power," or to Emerson in the presence 
of "light" but the absence of "heat." In Criticism (1914), 
Standards (1916), The Genius of Style (1924), and Demo- 
cratic Distinction in America (1927), Brownell was con- 
cerned with standards for cultural life in the United States. 
"To an intelligence fully and acutely alive its own time 
must, I think, be more interesting than any other," and he 
said that literature is in direct dependence on the life of 
the times that produced it. But Brownell also believed that 
the principles inherent in the art of a democratic society 
should be consonant with the highest possible cultural 
achievements, by which he meant the ideals of the genteel 
tradition. Therefore, he was not prepared to accept the nat- 
uralism and impressionism of his own time. 

Because of his insistence that personal temperament re- 
strict and discipline itself (which accounts for his disap- 
proval of the impressionists), Brownell is sometimes listed 
among the New Humanists. This passage from Standards 
(characteristic of his tendency to be pretentious) might sug- 
gest such an allegiance: 

There is running through currents and eddies of the movement 
in France, which boil rather than flow, a clear stream of tem- 
peramentally conservative criticism, that clarifies and purifies 


and carries along to the ocean of general appreciation the sweet- 
ness without the sediment of troubled waters through which it 
passes, while at the same time it tranquilly transports its own 
freight of principles and standards. 

But Brownell dissociated himself from the humanists be- 
cause he found Irving Babbitt's doctrine of self-restraint 
too negative, and in Democratic Distinction in America he 
made his reason explicit: 

The age certainly has need of self-control, but self-control in 
the sense of self-discipline to the end of self-direction must to us 
wear a fairer face than the self-restraint that, though undoubt- 
edly an incidental, is plainly not the driving force, of self-de- 

Some of the critics of the 1920*5 and 1930*5, especially 
Ludwig Lewisohn, have treated Brander Matthews as the 
personification of the genteel tradition in criticism, but he, 
like Howells, belonged to two worlds; he could maintain 
the manner and employ the tone of the genteel critic but 
at the same time be aware, sometimes sympathetically, of 
the new forms in literature. Part of the impression he cre- 
ates is the result of his possessing only slight imaginative 
strength. He could say, for example, that drama should 
be "ingenious and clean, adroit and agreeable, neat and 
shrewd/' And his interpretation of Henrik Ibsen in In- 
quiries and Opinions (1907) seems weak and dated because 
it is not related to the profound sense of the modern world 
that Ibsen, whatever his exaggerations, possessed. Ibsen, 
Matthews wrote, does not belong with Sophocles, Shakes- 
peare, or Molire for this reason: "There are few of his 
social dramas in which we cannot find more than a hint 
of abnormal eccentricity or of morbid perversity; and this 


is the reason why the most of them fail to attain the dignity 
of true and lofty tragedy." He saw in Ibsen an able techni- 
cian, but he was unprepared to see the hard substance, the 
passion in lieu of sentiment, and the ignoring of the tra- 
ditional heroic protagonist about which eighteen-year-old 
James Joyce had been thinking and writing in 1900. Mat- 
thews and many of his colleagues were unprepared to read 
Ibsen sympathetically because their sensibilities had been 
formed in the genteel tradition. 

John Jay Chapman, whose sensibilities were also formed 
in this tradition, was at least partially able to transcend it. 
His literary criticism is almost an incidental part of his 
work, concerned with politics, education, and religion, but 
it is distinguished by vigor and perspicacity. In Memories 
and Milestones (1915) he expressed a low opinion of Shaw, 
finding him deficient in taste and without reverence; but, 
however unfair he may have been to Shaw, there is nothing 
genteel in his expression. "Ibsen reasoned thus: 'If you want 
to give emotion to the average playgoer, you must take a 
rusty blade from an old razor, attach it to a brick, and there- 
with suddenly shave off one of the man's toes. That is art/ 
Shaw has the same rake and saw theory." In one of his let- 
ters there is this comment on Lowell: "His prefaces some- 
times very nice, in spirit- but his later prefaces are so ex- 
pressiveOh my, so expressive of hems and haws and creased 
literary trousers. I feel like running him through in the 
belly and singing out Hulloo! old cockolorum." Perhaps 
Chapman's best collection of papers is Emerson, and Other 
Essays (1898), and the shrewdest of his comments is that in 
which he finds Emerson "a faithful exponent of his own 
and of the New England temperament, which distrusts and 
dreads the emotions. ... If an inhabitant from another 
planet should visit the earth he would receive, on the whole, 


a truer notion of human life by attending an opera than 
he would by reading Emerson's volumes. He would learn 
from the Italian opera that there were two sexes; and this, 
after all, is probably the fact with which the education of 
a stranger ought to begin." Chapman wrote about twenty- 
five books before his death in 1933, but his ghostly roots pre- 
vented his acceptance of the America known to his younger 
contemporaries. In a Preface published in 1909 he said: 

The spiritual life in New England has never been luxuriant. It 
is one-sided, sad and inexpressive in many ways. But it has co- 
herence, and this is what makes it valuable for the young Ameri- 
can. Every young person in the United States ought to be sent 
to Massachusetts for some part of his education. 

Chapman found only a very small audience. His was cer- 
tainly not a wasted career, but it does seem unmistakably 
clear that his involvement in the genteel tradition caused 
him to withdraw from the world around him and made 
him seem merely a victim of exacerbated nerves, a crank 
in rather than a critic of a new world. 


Writers in the genteel tradition had divided experience 
into two major spheres. On the one side was love, art, and 
the ideal; on the other, sex, everyday experience, and the 
forces of materialism. They were unwilling to acknowledge 
that love and a frank view of sex were not incompatible; 
that art expressed in appropriate form, language, or idiom 
might arise from the everyday world; and that valuable 
ideals could grow in a world dominated by science, busi- 
ness, and industrialism. The genteel critics were writing 


out of a tradition that was evaporating, but they were also 
actively opposed and sometimes ridiculed by critics who 
prided themselves on being aware of the new European tra- 
ditions and by critics who felt that the methods and infor- 
mation furnished by science were applicable to the study 
and the creation of literature. 



AMERICAN literature at the end of the 
nineteenth century was not quite ready to assimilate or to 
borrow intelligently from the decadent movement in Eng- 
land and from the subjectivist and often esoteric movements 
in France. Borrowings tended to have an artificial look and 
to be self-conscious. The exotic line that runs from Lafcadio 
Hearn to Carl Van Vechten and James Branch Cabell pro- 
duced mostly wax flowers. Imitations of Verlaine and others 
by Richard Hovey and William Bliss Carman, for example, 
seem, in retrospect, presentations through a glass transcen- 
dentally. Yet, as the new century progressed, such borrow- 
ings, from the symbolists especially, helped make possible 
the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Al- 
len Tate, and Hart Crane J The American criticism indebt- 


ed to these subjectivist movements suffers from bohemian 
posings and cosmopolitan airs, but some of it is sensitively 
and intelligently impressionistic. Even the bohemian and 
cosmopolitan criticism which indulged in its own kind of 
stereotypes and cliches claimed to be highly personalized 
and to evoke the character and quality of the original work 
in a word, to be impressionistic, after the manner of Ana- 
tole France and Walter Pater^/ 

Anatole France was the enemy of those who would im- 
pose any system as the truth. Skeptical of all values, he be- 
came dependent upon irony. Only after many centuries, he 
said, will it be possible to have true sciences. The comple- 
tion of the sciences is only in the mind of Auguste Comte, 
the founder of the positivist line in modern philosophy. As 
yet there is no science of biology, much less of sociology. 
"Aesthetics," he wrote in La vie litteraire (1888-93), * s 
based on nothing solid. It is a castle in the air. Some have 
tried to base it upon ethics. But there is no such thing as 
ethics." There are no acceptable systems, but fortunately, 
as France would have it, the ironic mind enables us to live 
with our illusions and prevents our being outrageously vic- 
timized by them. (If the eighteenth century in its neoclassic 
aesthetic and its rationalistic philosophy overemphasized 
permanence, stability, and law, then the subjectivist move- 
ments of the nineteenth century may be said to have gone 
to extremes in emphasizing impermanence, instability, and 
the absence of law. Impressionism obviously was a part of 
this reaction.)|/The good critic is one who relates the "ad- 
ventures of his soul among masterpieces."/ Beauty is an il- 
lusion or a dream in which man finds it necessary to live. 
France's aesthetic appealed strongly to American critics like 
James Huneker and Lewis E. Gates. The cold, dignified 
precision of Walter Pater's manner won respect, but the 


disintegrating irony of France won humble followers/Even 
so, Pater furnished them a valuable and neat exposition of 
the function of the impressionist critic. // 

Studies in the History of the Renaissance is undoubtedly 
the classic of impressionist criticism in English. The critic, 
Pater wrote, should not concern himself with definitions. 
The important thing is that he have "a certain kind of tem- 
perament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence 
of beautiful objects." Pater, profoundly aware of the world 
as flux, wrote in the "Conclusion" that "to regard all things 
and principles of things as inconstant modes or fashions has 
more and more become the tendency of modern thought." 
The more conservative elements of the Victorian society 
overemphasized the solidity and permanence of "things and 
principles of things," but Pater tended, in the "Conclusion" 
at least, to overemphasize the "whirl of thought and feel- 
ing." At first, he wrote, we have a sense of "sharp and im- 
portunate reality" in the presence of objects and experi- 
ences. But upon reflection these externalities dissolve, "each 
object is loosed into a group of impressions color, odor, 
texture in the mind of the observer." Language gives ob- 
jects and principles a solidity and permanence which in 
our consciousness become "jmpressions unstable, flickering, 
inconsistent."! Impressionist criticism JxHijidL itsjnr pt 
center in "thj^jmpressionsjofjhe.mdividual in his isolation, 
each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dreamjxt 
a wocld." Ideas or systems which bring us to a stasis in which 
abstract theory and rule supersede the qualities, the sub- 
tle discriminations, even the ecstasy of the given moment 
should, Pater concluded, have "no real claim on us." 

Edgar Saltus, more genuinely impressionist in his fiction 
than in his criticism, is perhaps the most egregious poseur 
among the cosmopolite writers. He said that in literature 


only three things count: "style, style polished, and style re- 
polished." He was even capable of faking esoteric sources, 
but when he chose he could write sensibly and with re- 
straint. Saltus began his career with a modest biographical 
and critical study, Balzac (1884), most notable for its asides 
on realism in fiction. An era's realism in letters is simply 
its sentiments and attitudes about "the obvious and true/' 
Imitation or copying by lesser writers enervates the sense of 
the real. The innovator, like Balzac, establishes a new way 
of seeing, which in its turn will be copied. Saltus's The Phi- 
losophy of Disenchantment (1885) is an account and ex- 
tension of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea, and 
The Anatomy of Negation (1886) is an account of anti- 
theism, ranging from India, Greece, and Rome to nine- 
teenth-century France. Each is, for Saltus, unpretentious, 
and each is well written. The closing chapter of The Anat- 
omy of Negation implies a need for an exquisite art in lieu 
of belief, and evokes a sense of the ennui pervading the 
poetry of Alfred de Vigny, Baudelaire, and Leconte de Lisle. 
"Morality in Fiction" in Love and Lore (1890) furnishes 
one of our first attacks on the puritan spirit in American 
literature. And in the same book he spoke of romanticism 
being a corpse from which the warmth has not departed. In 
1917 he published Oscar Wilde: An Idler's Impression. In 
its twenty-six pages Saltus catches not merely Wilde as a 
man but the sickly elegance of much fin de siecle literature, 
including a great deal of his own. Like Wilde, with whom 
he was acquainted, Saltus believed that the only important 
question for the critic was to distinguish between good writ- 
ing and bad. 

Vance Thompson was also a mannered aesthete, the man 
with a monocle. In the Preface to French Portraits (1899) 
he said that for "many years, now, the dear Lord has pre- 


served me from the sin of inutile reading/' The editorial in 
the first issue (1895) of M'lle New York, which he edited, 
stated that it was the ambition of the magazine to "disin- 
tegrate some small portion of the public into its original 
component parts the aristocracies of birth, wit, learning, 
and art, and the joyously vulgar mob." With approval he 
quotes a minor French decadent: "I wish to play with this 
life that has been given me, in all its beauty, richness, lib- 
erty, elegance; je suis un aristocrate." For himself, he adds: 
"There are two races of men. And the one is beautiful, 
luxurious, heroic, cruel, ravished by the splendid banality 
of life; the other is gray, patient, drowsy, dutiful, the race 
of pitiful men." The method of Thompson's criticism is also 
given in the Preface: "In these appreciations of the writers 
of young France I have not, I trust, laid undue stress upon 
what they have done, slighting what they are. I should like 
you to see across these pages Verlaine hobbling to his cafe 
in the Bou' Mich', Mallarm jogging by in his donkey-cart, 
Eckhoud fondling his rabbit, or, it may be, Signoret, im- 
possibly young, promenading his pale soul in the autum- 
nal alleys of Versailles." After writing French Portraits, 
Thompson became a popular journalist, turning out be- 
hind-the-scenes articles and finally writing uplift books. 

Lewis Gates, a professor of English at Harvard and a sober 
student of modern literatures/sought in Studies and Appre- 
ciations (1900) to characterize and account for the public 
favor in which impressionist criticism had recently found 
itself. )He acknowledged Arnold and especially Pater as be- 
ing in the impressionist tradition which insists upon "deli- 
cacy of perception, mobility of mood, reverence for the 
shade, and a sure instinct for the specific integrating phrase, 
and for the image tinged with feeling." Yet no single critic, 
he said, is responsible for the tradition; it is rather that 


since the eighteenth century we have cultivated a sense of 
the particularized, specific detail; in place of the typical sea- 
sons of James Thomson and thegeneralization^of Addison 
we have come with the romantics to value the fleeting mood 
and to enjoy the unique experience of critical appreciation 
(no one feels exactly the same way twice in the presence of 
a work of art). {Impressionist criticism at hsjbest, hejcon- 
tinues, is the record of a single temperament at a particular 
moment in tKFpresence of literary-work capable of arous- 
ing spiritual energies.jBut Gates warned in " Impression- 
ism and Appreciation" that when the egoism of the reader 
moves on a tangent from the work the resulting commen- 
tary can hardly be called criticism/Impressionism too often 
moves on a tangent. (Therefore, we need the "appreciative 
critic,'* one who is not whimsical. The appreciative critic, 
Gates says, takes into account the objective and permanent 
nature of a work. And since an understanding of the his- 
torical context is necessary if he is to know a work intimate- 
ly, he seeks a detailed historical knowledge. Similarly, so 
far as possible, he tries to recreate the consciousness of the 
artist at the moment he evoked his images, "charged them 
with spiritual power, and called into rhythmical order 
sound-symbols to represent them henceforth for ever/' The 
appreciative critic will learn what he can from aesthetics, 
but he is well advised to avoid being caught in the meshes 
of a priori theories. He will learn what he can of normal 
or typical responses, but he will remain an individual and 
rely on his own impressions./Knowing all he can about the 
milieu and psychological origins of a work, the impres- 
sionist and appreciative critic will neither judge nor dog- 
matizehe will enjoy^His function is "to realize the mani- 
fold charm the work of art has gathered into itself from all 
sources, and to interpret this charm imaginatively to the 


men of his own day and generation." Gates, the professor of 
English literature, pays his respects to the historical method, 
the students of the biographical origins of a work, and "the 
science of aesthetics"- but in the end he throws in his lot 
with Anatole France. There is an "enchanting fickleness" 
in literature as there is in life and in the "temperament that 
confronts it." 

Joseph Percival Pollard, like James Huneker, his col- 
league on Town Topics, helped in the popularization and 
acceptance of Continental literary movements. For an Amer- 
ican edition (1905) of Oscar Wilde's Intentions he wrote 
the Introduction in which he said: "Literature is an adver- 
tisement of one's attitude toward life. It is the record of a 
mood. It is the impress, writ in wax, of some mask we wore 
at some moment." Pollard's critical accounts in Masks and 
Minstrels of New Germany (1911) are little advertisements 
for Nietzsche, Stefan George, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo 
von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, and others.^He con- 
cludes with a brief confession of faith in impressionist criti- 
cism: "Only as we ourselves have vividly felt this or that 
sensation in life or the arts, can we pass such sensation onj! 
fWhat this book has tried to convey is the personal impres- 
sion of one who believes in only individual taste and appre- 
ciationTyThere is little, however, that is really idiosyncratic 
in Pollard. His are fairly commonplace judgments. For all 
his enthusiasm he has little of the artiness, attitudinizing, 
and pretentiousness that now make Vance Thompson's com- 
parable volumes almost unreadable. 

It is Huneker, more than any other critic, who has made 
Americans aware of Wagner, Strauss, Rodin, Degas, Stend- 


hal, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Nietzsche, Hauptmann, and Ib- 
sen. He wrote tirelessly for newspapers and magazines: the 
Sun, the Times, Scribner's, and Town Topics. Through 
them he had his greatest influence. His books, Iconoclasts 
(1905), Promenades of an Impressionist (1910), Ivory Apes 
and Peacocks (1915), and the others did not sell well, even 
though they were influential among those interested in the 
currents and whirlpools of modernism. Huneker, a modest, 
humble man, was also highly respected, not merely by his 
American colleagues, but by Remy de Gourmont and Georg 

It is easy to be unfair to Huneker, to lump him with those 
eclectic critics who serve their time as public relations men 
for avant-garde movements, then are overtaken by oblivion. 
His manner and method may have derived from his desire 
to serve primarily in publicizing the arts or from the refusal 
of newspaper and magazine editors to encourage analytical 
and sharp criticism. Huneker in manner was pleasant, en- 
thusiastic; in method he was rhapsodic, anecdotic, and al- 
lusive. Most often his essays are conversational he remem- 
bers something he has heard about the man's student days; 
this reminds him of something in the Imitation of Christ, 
and how better isolate the characteristic genius of the work 
than by suggesting how much it has in common with the 
work of three other artists? This is a passage on Anatole 

Here, too, we recognize the amiable casuistry of Anatole Vol- 
taire. And there is something of Baudelaire and Barbey d'Aure- 
villy's piety of imagination with impiety of thought, in France's 
pronouncement. He is a Chrysostom reversed; from his golden 
mouth issue spiritual blasphemies. 

Mr. Henry James has said that the province of art is "all life, 
all feeling, all observation, all vision." According to this rubric, 


France is a profound artist. He plays with the appearances of 
life, occasionally lifting the edge of the curtain to curdle the 
blood of his spectators by the sight of Buddha's shadow in some 
grim cavern beyond. He has the Gallic tact of adorning the 
blank spaces of theory and the ugly spots of reality. A student 
of Kant in his denial of the objective, we can never picture him 
as following Konigsberg's sage in his admiration of the starry 
heavens and the moral law. Both are relative, would be the re- 
port of the Frenchman. But, if he is sceptical about things tangi- 
ble, he is apt to dash off at a tangent and proclaim the existence 
of that "school of drums kept by the angels," which the hal- 
lucinated Arthur Rimbaud heard and beheld. His method of 
surprising life, despite his ingenuous manner, is sometimes as 
oblique as that of Jules Laforgue. And, in the words of Pater, 
his is "one of the happiest temperaments coming to an under- 
standing with the most depressing of theories." 

A slightly different sort of essay is the sensible and illumi- 
nating "A Visit to Walt Whitman," a mixture of humorous 
anecdote and observations about his own response to Leaves 
of Grass. Whitman, Huneker said, had a great capacity for 
recording the surface of things, for tactile images yet he 
seldom managed a poetic synthesis. His celebration of sex 
was good for his time, for the sexless world of Emerson, Poe, 
and Hawthorne. "But women, as a rule, have not rallied to 
his doctrines, instinctively feeling that he is indifferent to 
them, notwithstanding the heated homage he pays to their 
physical attractions." He was a great poseur and he was also 
quite lovable. Huneker tries to be fair: 

With all his genius in naming certain unmentionable matters, 
I don't believe in the virility of these pieces, scintillating with 
sexual images. They leave one cold despite their erotic vehe- 
mence; the abuse of the vocative is riot persuasive, their raptures 
are largely rhetorical. This exaltation, this ecstasy, seen at its 
best in William Blake, is sexual ecstasy, but only when the mood 


is married to the mot lumi&re is there authentic conflagration. 
Then his "barbaric yawp is heard across the roofs of the world"; 
but in the underhumming harmonics of Calamus, where Walt 
really loafs and invites his soul, we get the real man, not the 
inflated humbuggery of These States, Camerados, or My Mes- 
sages, which fills Leaves with their patriotic frounces. His phi- 
losophy is fudge. It was an artistic misfortune for Walt that he 
had a "mission," it is a worse one that his disciples endeavor to 
ape him. 

Within its limits, Huneker's chatty, allusive, and impres- 
sionistic manner isjsucces&ful. 

ArouncTH u neker l there formed an influential group of 
critics: H. L. Mencken, George Jean Nathan, Benjamin De 
Casseres, Carl Van Vechten, Lawrence Gilman, and Paul 
Rosenfeld. Most of them were interested in painting, drama, 
music, and literature. They were eclectic, journalistic, ele- 
gant, modern before all else, cosmopolitan, and impression- 
istic. Mencken, Nathan, and Willard Huntington Wright 
(later S. S. Van Dine) as contributors to and later editors 
of Smart Set added bumptiousness and impudence. They 
kept up a running attack on American provincialism. If a 
subject had been untouchable, they delighted in sponsor- 
ing hearty discussions of it. 

H. L. Mencken became literary editor, with Nathan as 
drama critic, of Smart Set in 1908. The two became editors 
of it in 1914. Under them, Smart Set succeeded in pushing 
over the internally weakened but seemingly still eminent 
structure of gentility. The romantic primitivism of Jack 
London, the somber realities of Theodore Dreiser and Ed 
Howe, the radicalism of Upton Sinclair, and the seemingly 

l There are interesting studies of the prose styles of a number of writers 
in the Huneker tradition in Joseph Warren Beach's The Outlook /or Ameri- 
can Prose (Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1926). 


wicked ironies of James Branch Cabell were welcomed. In 
19^3, Mencken and Nathan founded American Mercury. 
Nathan resigned after one year, but Mencken continued 
with it until 1933. 

Through his editorials in American Mercury, his series 
^.Prejudices, as well as through his other articles and books, 
Mencken popularized such phrases as "Boobus America- 
nus," "booboisie," "Bible Belt," "Sahara of the bozarts," and 
"smuthound." Like Shaw, whose plays were the subject of 
his first book (1905), Mencken found his chief delight in 
attacking whatever was conventional or held sacred. 

His second book The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche 
(1908) gave Mencken a chance to introduce one of Hu- 
neker's cultural heroes and to attack organized religion, 
conventional morality, and democracy. Mencken reduced 
Nietzsche's philosophy to eight propositions, the last being: 
"That human beings of the ruling, efficient class should 
reject all gods and religions and with them the morality at 
the bottom of them and the ideas which grow out of them, 
and restore to its ancient kingship that primal instinct which 
enables every efficient individual to differentiate between 
the things which are beneficial to him and the things which 
are harmful." In "Puritanism as a Literary Force," included 
in A Book of Prefaces (1917), he described the puritan force 
as relentlessly "against the rise of that dionysian spirit, that 
joyful acquiescence in life, that philosophy of the Ja-sager, 
which offers to Puritanism as in times past, its chief and 
perhaps only antagonism." Mencken's strength was in his 
willingness to affirm native American voices with few or no 
apologies for their artistic deficiencies, his willingness to 
do battle with the representatives of propriety who would 
impose their bigotries and repressions in the name of vir- 
tue. But the individualism in Mencken that could attack 


puritanism could ridicule economic reform as the sentimen- 
tality implicit in democracy. 

The crudeness in Mencken or his willingness to oversim- 
plify made him an able pamphleteer. Edmund Wilson has 
said that in the igso's he was "a sort of central bureau to 
which the young looked for tips to guide them in the cul- 
tural confusion." Mencken had a gusty self-assurance that 
served the moment and gave him a style that those desiring 
to be equally brash could not resist imitating. Wilson de- 
scribed the style as "a blend of American colloquial speech 
with a rakish literary English that sounded as if it had come 
out of old plays of the period of Congreve and Wycherley; 
and a tone that was humorous and brutal in the combative 
Germanic manner." 

Mencken's "Footnote on Criticism" (1921) exhibits his 
tendency to be intellectually vulgar. The literary critic as 
such, he said, is one who uses the work of art as an excuse 
for writing an essay of his own like the nineteenth-century 
reviewers who used a book given for review as occasion or 
excuse for writing a long paper of their own. The critic sets 
up "shop as a general merchant in general ideas, i.e., as an 
artist working in the materials of life itself." The reviewer, 
"hollow as a jug," retails the ideas of his superiors, the 
artists. "Like writing poetry," reviewing is "chiefly a func- 
tion of intellectual immaturity." Several years earlier in 
"Criticism of Criticism of Criticism" (1918) he had called 
the critic a catalytic agent. The untutored spectator has no 
intelligible reaction to the work of art until the critic causes 
it to live for him. The most feasible method, he had said, is 
to be found in certain chapters of Huneker, wherein a "sen- 
sitive and intelligent artist recreates the work of other ar- 
tists." In one sense, however, Mencken belongs less with the 
impressionist critics than with those, like Van Wyck Brooks 


and Carl Van Doren, who help to liberalize the American 
mores. He is a social critic first and a literary critic only 

George Jean Nathan, Mencken's alter ego, was the most 
determinedly naughty of the cosmopolite critics. Except for 
The American Credo (1920), which he did with Mencken, 
The New American Credo (1927), which he did alone, and 
the autobiographical Friends of Mine (1932), Nathan's 
thirty-odd books are composed mostly of pieces about fash- 
ions in the theater and his collected reviews. He has written 
of the theater, he said in The World in Falseface (1923), "as 
a man criticizes his own cocktails and his own God." He is 
the gentleman ironist: "I do not take it seriously; nor on the 
other hand do I take it too lightly, for one who takes noth- 
ing very seriously takes nothing too lightly." The theater 
for Nathan was "excellent diversion," occasion for a witty 
review. A few of his witticisms have proved durable, most 
notably the characterization of J. M. Barrie as "the triumph 
of sugar over diabetes," and of Maeterlinck as "the Belgian 
Belasco." Nathan has attacked academicism and prudery, 
and he has helped "discover," or at least encourage the re- 
ception given, Eugene O'Neill, Sean O'Casey, and the ear- 
lier works of Paul Vincent Carroll and of William Saroyan. 
It may be that the immaturity and crudity of most Ameri- 
can plays has precluded any serious criticism from Nathan. 
Yet his assertion that drama, "a thing of suggestion and 
illusion," should not be scrutinized too closely can certainly 
be read as an essentially frivolous statement. With Mencken, 
he helped to make America self-conscious about artistic val- 
ues, but in refusing to subordinate his personality to writing 
about drama as an art he has presented himself as a sophisti- 
cate and cosmopolite whose interests and opinions too often 
are trivial. 


Carl Van Vechten, a lesser Huneker, has also written of 
the seven arts. The aesthetic life in its dilettante aspects has 
been his subject. He worked as hard as any of his fellows to 
make the dream of an unending holiday flourish in postwar 
America. Art was not selection and brooding upon experi- 
ence until it came to aesthetic form and significance; it was 
experience itself limited to decor, epigrams, and gilt ele- 
gance. It was the wealthy Caribbean world of Joseph Her- 
gesheimer's novels, the pastiche that was Elinor Wylie's 
Augustan England, the Poictesme of Cabell's dream, and 
the alcoholic and money-ridden set from which F. Scott 
Fitzgerald was never quite able to free himself. Van Vechten 
in his novels wrote the story of a decade in which man- 
nerisms, eccentricities, cynicism, and eroticism were ex- 
perimented with and investigated. In retrospect the gaiety 
seems artificial and the cynicism forced. In 1930 he gave 
up his novels and criticism, except his continued promotion 
of Gertrude Stein, for photography. His literary criticism, 
rather slight in bulk, was the counterpart of his fiction. Most 
of it, now largely unreadable, appears in The Merry-Go- 
Round (1918), and Excavations (1926). Still usable, both for 
its commentary as well as its data, is " Edgar Saltus" in The 
Merry-Go-Round. Van Vechten places Saltus in the tradi- 
tion of Gustave Moreau: one finds in Saltus's works "the 
same unicorns, the same fabulous monsters, the same virgins 
on the rocks, the same exotic and undreamed of flora and 
fauna, the same mystic paganism, the same exquisitely jew- 
elled workmanship. One can find further analogies in the 
Aubrey Beardsley of 'Under the Hill/ in the elaborate styl- 
ized irony of Max Beerbohm." Van Vechten's study of Saltus 
is written in the tapestry prose he admires in the work of 
Saltus, but, as with most of the novels it celebrates, the old 
luster is gone. 


The sudden eminence of James Branch Cabell was a sign 
of the times. The immediate occasion was the censorship 
otjurgen in 1919, but almost inevitably he would have been 
acclaimed as an American voice speaking in the accents of 
French aestheticism. Cabell was overpraised because certain 
readers were looking for the wit, the irony, and the sophis- 
tication associated with writers like Anatole France. Ca- 
bell's Beyond Life (1919) and Straws and Prayer-Books 
(1924) express the vanity of human affairs and the need 
to believe in romantic dreams. Man "hurtles into these vari- 
ous roads from reality, precisely as a goaded sheep flees with- 
out notice of what lies ahead." 

Among the countless internecine animals that roamed earth, 
puissant with claw and fang and sinew, an ape reft of his tail, 
and grown rusty at climbing, was the most formidable, and in 
the end would triumph. It was of course considered blasphe- 
mous to inquire into the grounds for this belief, in view of its 
patent desirability, for the race was already human. So the pro- 
phetic portrait of man treading among cringing plesiosauri to 
browbeat a frightened dinosaur was duly scratched upon the 
cave's wall, and art began forthwith to accredit human beings 
with every trait and destiny which they desiderated. . . . 

This irony is hardly that of Anatole France, who could see 
such a situation as the pursuing of dreams in more subtle 
and complex ways. Cabell's assumption of the ironic man- 
ner always seems a little forced. Cabell is more romanticist 
than ironist. He states a partial truth and then rests on it: 
"And romance tricks [man] but not to his harm. For, be 
it remembered that man alone of animals plays the ape to 
his dreams. . . ." It is about tomorrow that "romance is 
talking, by means of parables. And all the while man plays 
the ape to fairer and yet fairer dreams, and practice strength- 
ens him at mimicry." 


/Paul Rosenfeld was among the best of the impressionists/ 
Unfortunately, his inability in his later years to write ob- 
jective, less evocative criticism apparently made his work 
unacceptable to most editors, and his career in this respect 
suggests the dissolution of Huneker's kind of criticism. The 
center of a painter's or a poet's work was evident to him 
and he could probe it for deficiencies or test its strength. 
He was among the first of his generation to perceive the 
strengths and weaknesses of Van Wyck Brooks. And he had 
the great virtue of giving himself without excess to his en- 
thusiasms. But Rosenfeld also tried to re-create in his prose 
an approximation of the work, whether a painting or a 
poem, he was criticizing. Marsden Hartley's "New Mexico" 
has a "strange depraved topography. . . . strawberry-pink 
mountains dotted by fuzzy poison green shrubs, recalling 
breasts and wombs of clay; clouds like sky-sailing feather- 

In order to re-create the work, Rosenfeld too frequently 
extended words beyond their capacities and he dislocated 
phrases. The critic's appreciation seems forced on us. It is 
a little like Pater's insistence that the color, odor, texture 
be experienced to the full by an observer who must enjoy 
himself at all costs during his brief existence. Perhaps this 
is why Port of New York (1924) and Men Seen (1925) seem 
a little dated. 


But impressionism in the hands of imaginative critics, 
who seem more often than not to be poets, has made pos- 
sible a criticism free from the rigors of fixed systems. The 


level of criticism in magazines like The Symposium, The 
Dial, Poetry, and Hound and Horn in the days when Qn- 
temjgorary criticjgn was trying to find itself frequently de- 
pended on such critics^ Conrad Aiken's Scepticisms, Notes 
on Contemporary Poetry (1919) exhibits a consistently high 
level of impressionism as well as a knowledge of current 
aesthetic and psychoanalytical theory. Marianne Moore, one 
of the best critics in this tradition, has often caught the 
quality of a work by judicious quotation as well as by little 
asides that suggest the nature of the writer's perceptions. 
Her criticism is most effective when she is examining writ- 
ers like James or Stevens with whom she has close affinities. 
Similarly, Louise Bogan has managed to write a highly 
perceptive criticism without identifying herself with a 
group or school. She is especially good at borrowing an in- 
sight from or pointing up parallels with music or the other 
arts, and she has a keen sense of milieu. For example, in 
a few sentences she can create a sense of the world of 1904 
which Joyce evoked in Ulysses: a feeling "of untoward 
squalor and specialized glitter; a sad and ugly pathos and 
an outmoded and nai've gaiety; a sense of the hidden mas- 
siveness of institutions opposed to the extreme particular- 
ization of individuals. . . . Colors are dark or muddied: mus- 
tard brown and magenta. There is a pervasive smell of beer, 
horses, and human sweat. It is a period without outlet." 
/'These critics have the highly refined sensitivity which 
makes perceptive criticism possible, and in the absence of 
which formal rules quickly become rigid categories. Prob- 
ably it is true that all worth-while criticism is in some sense 
impressionistic, in the sense that the critic lends himself 
to the work, trying to see it in its own terms, to sympathize 
with it, and to give the reader some understanding of the 


kind of excitement it can generatdjf But to be seen disinter- 
estedly a work has also to be subjected to the kind of analy- 
sis that is open to critics who are aware of ways in which the 
given work is like or unlike those in the genre to which it 
belongs and who, possessing a fairly complex knowledge of 
critical theory, can discuss the structure of the given work. 


-s A CRITICAL term, * 'realism' ' is not 
very useful. It does suggest the exclusion of a certain type 
of subject matter, such as fantasy, Utopias, tales of Gothic 
horror, and the like. In the latter part of the nineteenth 
century it meant, more specifically, opposition to tales in 
which * 'girls were shrinkingly modest and yet brave in emer- 
gencies," as well as opposition to novels like Ben Hur and 
Uncle Tom's Cabin. (Henry James said that American read- 
ers of fiction had not made up their minds whether the truth 
could be told, and Howells said that truth " unvarnished" 
is "almost the rarest thing in an Anglo-Saxon book.") But 
to say what realism is, is quite another matter. The realism 
of Howells is not the realism of James or Hamlin Garland 
or Stephen Crane. Common to all of them was the desire 


to tell the truth, but each of them was likely to discover 
reality in different forms and to search for his truth in di- 
verse sources. The following passage from Howell's Criti- 
cism and Fiction is his version of what the eyes of the honest 
critic should see: 

In life he finds nothing insignificant; all tells for destiny and 
character; nothing that God has made is contemptible. He can- 
not look upon human life and declare this thing or that thing 
unworthy of notice, any more than the scientist can declare a 
fact of the material world beneath the dignity of his inquiry. 
He feels in every nerve the equality of things and the unity of 
men; his soul is exalted, not by vain shows and shadows and 
ideals, but by realities, in which alone the truth lives. 

In the passage are echoes from Emerson and the latter's rev- 
erence for each object in the living world. Obviously Crane 
would not have formulated his understanding of the con- 
cept of realism in any such idealistic or genteel terms. The 
truth about the complexity of the problem of realism was 
put neatly by James in "The Art of Fiction": "Humanity 
is immense, and reality has a myriad forms; the most one 
can affirm is that some of the flowers of fiction have the odor 
of it, and others have not; as for telling you in advance how 
your nosegay should be composed, that is another affair." 
Some of James's contemporaries, however, believed that 
by drawing upon the truths of science, or those which sci- 
ence would eventually furnish, the artist could know in 
advance how a literary work should be composed, how re- 
ality could be caught and fixed. They were, of course, living 
in a period in which for many science had become the reli- 
gion of reason; and even for those who saw it in a different 
light the prestige of scientific modes of thought was neces- 
sarily high. One frequently finds critics trying to model 
their own methodology on the methodology of science (or 


what they think the methodology to be) or trying to estab- 
lish as literary ideals the ideals of the scientist. 

Surprisingly enough, one finds that even a man like How- 
ells could be so awed on occasion by what he understood to 
be scientific methodology that he could abjure his right to 
make judgments about literary worth. Apparently, his de- 
sire to be of his age, and therefore scientific, induced him 
to make comments that contradict the position he takes 
when expressing himself as the genteel idealist that at heart 
he was. There is a contradiction, for instance, between his 
emphasis on a genteel morality and his comments on the 
function of scientific criticism. He was willing to have ex- 
pressions of the "beast man" dropped from literature, "as 
they were long ago dropped from the talk of decent peo- 
ple." On the other hand, he sometimes wrote of literature 
as being the inevitable product of milieu. The function of 
the critic, he once said, was to report on what he found. 
"There is a measure of the same absurdity in his trampling 
on a poem, a novel, or an essay that does not please him as 
in the botanist grinding a plant underfoot because he does 
not find it pretty/' It should be his concern "rather to iden- 
tify the species and then explain how and where the speci- 
men is imperfect and irregular." When he was not being so 
fashionably scientific Howells could state his doubt that 
formlessness, whatever its roots or causes, should be ac- 
cepted as inevitable. "Something, it seems to me, may be 
contained and kept alive in formality, but in formlessness 
everything spills and wastes away. This is what I find the 
fatal defect of our American Ossian, Walt Whitman, whose 
way is where artistic madness lies." But this conflict, how- 
ever minor in Howells, is an important clue to the minds 
of his critic contemporaries. The appeal for a realistic lit- 
erature was frequently made on the ground that it was 



The battle waged, and finally won, over the excesses of 
Emile Zola's naturalism the battle which helped make it 
possible to write the truth rather than make-believewas 
conducted largely on the grounds of its being scientific. The 
translation of Nana 1 in 1880 had been called obscene, sor- 
did, and nauseous. Magazines like The Literary World and 
The Atlantic Monthly had scoffed at Zola's claim in Le 
roman experimental (1881) that he was like the medical 
scientist concerned with the sickness of man socially in 
order to help restore him to health; the former said Zola's 
interest "must be that of a man of science watching with 
abhorrent fascination some hideous larva crawling in the 
filth of a dung hill," and the latter assumed that any French 
novelist claiming "to have purpose with a capital P" un- 
doubtedly "intends to be particularly indecent." (The bat- 
tle was won partly, of course, by the sympathies Zola aroused 
through his support of Alfred Dreyfus. Whereas L'assom- 
moir had been violently decried for its low life and moral 
contagion, later books, such as La terre, L' argent, and La 
debacle were read as painful accounts that were moral in 
intention and ignored by respectable people at their peril. 
Zola won new respect in 1898 with his famous letter ]' ac- 
cuse, in Dreyfus's behalf. It is obvious, The Nation said, 
that he is "a devoted champion of civil justice." When he 
died in 1902, Zola, by and large, was treated with respect 
by the literary commentators.) Zola and his followers made 
their appeal for acceptance on the grounds that they were 
scientific writers. One of the key statements in Le roman 

l See A. J. Salvan, Zola aux Etats Unis (Providence, R. L, Brown Univ. 
Press, 1943). 


experimental, translated by Belle Sherman in 1893, is this: 
"The experimental novelist is therefore the one who ac- 
cepts the proven facts, who points out in man and in society 
the mechanism of the phenomena over which science is mis- 
tress, and who does not interpose his personal sentiments, 
except in the phenomena whose determinism is not yet set- 
tled. . . ." The tone of the whole essay is suggested by this: 
"The metaphysical man is dead; our whole territory is trans- 
formed by the advent of the physiological man/' In his pri- 
vate notes Zola had written for his own guidance: "Study 
men as simple elements and note the reactions," and: "What 
matters most to me is to be purely naturalistic, purely physi- 
ological. Instead of having principles (royalism, Catholi- 
cism) I shall have laws (heredity, atavism)." Men and women 
are subject to inexorable and indifferent laws, economic, 
social, and biological. The American novelists who were or 
seem to have been influenced by Zola stress his objectivity 
and cool disinterestedness. Frank Norris, for example, said 
"no one could be a writer until he could regard life and 
people, and the world in general, from objective points of 
view until he could remain detached, outside, maintain 
the unswerving attitude of the observer." But most of them 
managed, thanks to evolution as treated by Herbert Spen- 
cer, to maintain a romantic optimism about the future of 
mankind collectively despite the rank hopelessness of the 
individual caught and crushed by the dramatic inexorable 
forces. 2 

2 For accounts of the somewhat contradictory theories of the naturalists, 
see C. C. Walcutt, "The Naturalism of Vandover and the Brute," Forms of 
Modern Fiction, ed. William Van O'Connor (Minneapolis, Univ. of Minne- 
sota Press, 1948); Robert Spiller, "Toward Naturalism in Fiction," Literary 
History of the United States f pp. 1016-38; and, Malcolm Cowley, " 'Not 
Men': A Natural History of American Naturalism," Kenyon Review, IX 
(Summer 1947), 414-35* and his "Naturalism in American Literature," Evo- 
lutionary Thought in America, ed. Stow Persons (New Haven, Yale Univ. 
Press, 1950). 


McTeague and Vandover and the Brute are indebted to 
Zola for specific scenes as well as doctrine; the respect for 
hereditary influences, the preoccupation with disease, espe- 
cially nervous diseases, character rigorously determined by 
environment, a liking for brutal and violent scenes, huge 
primitive men and healthy, vigorous women, the careful 
accumulation of detail to establish an air of actuality, and 
so forth. "Terrible things must happen," Norris wrote in 
The Responsibilities of the Novelist (1903), "to the char- 
acters of the Naturalistic tale. . . . Everything is extraor- 
dinary, imaginative, grotesque even, with a vague note of 
terror quivering throughout like the vibration of an omi- 
nous and low pitched diapason." But Norris knew that 
naturalistic fiction was not a transcript of life; it was a pe- 
culiar kind of adventure story. To write such stories, it 
helped to be able to think of modern businessmen as de- 
scendants of the aggressive Anglo-Saxons carrying out their 
fighting instincts, not in war, but in trade. Occasionally 
Norris could talk of the real struggles of the poor, of eco- 
nomic inequality and social injustices, and he could write 
of the need for the novelist to have a purpose. But Norris 
was primarily concerned, it seems, to write good stories. The 
aesthetic principles of the naturalistic school, as he chose to 
interpret them, served him. Naturalism, Norris noted with 
perceptiveness, "is a form of romanticism, not an inner cir- 
cle of realism." Zola's laws, as Norris knew, were not ab- 
solutes; they were factors, partial truths that the artist ex- 
aggerated and stylized for his aesthetic purposes. By calling 
them laws and appealing thereby to the prestige of science 
the stories took on a greater air of reality. 

Perhaps the critic who best summed up Zola's impor- 
tance, and at the same time suggested why the search for 
realism was in the air, was Harry Thurston Peck in "Emile 


Zola," done for The Bookman in 1902 and later published 
in Studies in Several Literatures (1909). Peck said that Zo- 
la's assertions about the novelist writing as a scientist were 
long since "whistled down the wind." No one cares, he 
said, what theory or fancied theory helped make his novels 
possible. Peck also gave a neat summary of realism, the 
movement which had burst into the intensities, the efflores- 
cence, called naturalism. Realism is a phenomenon as old 
as Euripides among the Greeks and Petronius among the 
Romans. It usually follows a period of romanticizing, as the 
picaresque tales followed the chivalrous romances, or as 
Henry Fielding followed the sentimentalities of Samuel 
Richardson. The present movement, he pointed out, may 
be seen in Stendhal or Rousseau, men who perceived the 
power in the naked truth. "Realism, however, was not a 
creation or a rediscovery by any one particular man. Its 
germ was in the air. . . . Democracy in politics, rationalism 
in theology, materialism in philosophy and realism in litera- 
ture, are very closely linked together." Even in Chateau- 
briand, the so-called father of romanticism, and in Victor 
Hugo one finds strong evidences of the developments later 
to be called realism and naturalism. The general drift of the 
realistic movement begins with Stendhal, carries through 
Balzac, the Goncourts, and "reaches absolute perfection 
with Madame Bovary. . . . Realism, as such, can never go 
beyond what Flaubert carefully wrought for us in this one 
exquisitely-finished etching, of which every line is bitten 
out as by an acid upon metal, and of which, in consequence, 
the sombre memory can never die." Flaubert brings the 
movement to its perfection. "After Flaubert came Zola 
not to work further miracles in the name of Realism, but 
to give Realism a new development and to call it Natural- 


Like Peck, many critics felt that the scientific movements 
were related to attempts to write truthfully, realistically. In 
1904, Brander Matthews in "Literature in the New Cen- 
tury" listed some of the ways in which science had already 
influenced the writing of literature. Ibsen found in "the 
doctrine of heredity a modern analogy of the ancient Greek 
idea of fate"; Ghosts has something of the inexorable in- 
evitability found in the tragedy of Sophocles. The doctrine 
of evolution has altered our theory of literary history; Bru- 
netiere "has shown us most convincingly how the several 
literary forms the lyric, the oration, the epic, with its ille- 
gitimate descendant, the modern novel in prose riiay cross- 
fertilize each other from time to time, and also how the 
casual hybrids that result are ever struggling to revert to 
their own species." Disinterestedness, an ideal of scientists, 
makes for a "lofty curiosity" in the search for knowledge, 
"helps the creative artist to strive for a more classic direct- 
ness and simplicity" and to abhor the "freakish and ab- 
normal." Respect for science means respect for "the reign 
of law; it establishes the strength of the social bond, and 
thereby, for example, it aids us to see that, altho romance is 
ever young and ever true, what is known as 'neo-romanti- 
cism,' with its reckless assertion of individual whim, is anti- 
social, and therefore probably immoral." 

Matthews warned, however, that although the study of 
science could give the writer a sense of actuality it might 
tempt him, already had tempted him in fact, "to dwell un- 
duly on the mere machinery of human motive and to aim 
not at a rich portrayal of the actions of men and women, but 
at an arid analysis of the mechanism of their impulses." Mat- 
thews was also aware of what we have come to call "sci- 
entism"; he quoted Thomas Huxley's warning that history 


tells us it is the "customary fate of new truths to begin as 
heresies, and to end as superstitions/ 1 

Vida Scudder, writing as an orthodox Christian, had de- 
voted a part of The Life of the Spirit in the Modern Eng- 
lish Poets (1895) to asking whether the influence of science 
is an unmixed good. If it is, she replies, it is hard to explain 
why it is accompanied by influences "which tend insidi- 
ously to destroy the life of poetry by robbing it of its char- 
acteristic powers/' The love of fact and of minute observa- 
tion restricts the imagination and encourages a confined 
art. How else, she asks, explain the preoccupation with sor- 
did facts and with a "dismal fatalism." But there were many 
critics, unlike Vida Scudder, who had the utmost faith in 
the powers of science to unlock the secrets of art and to im- 
prove its very nature. 

With more critics than not, the appeal to science meant 
that reality could be seen, understood, and stated in literary 
and critical terms. We find that the concept of evolution 
was to unlock the secrets of literary history; that a knowl- 
edge of scientific laws would eventually enable the novelist 
to control his plot as he would a reaction in chemistry; that 
to know the factors operating in a milieu was to know the 
character of the literary work produced in it; and that the 
acceptance of a scientific milieu meant the end of romantic 
make-believe and the writing of a literature in which ob- 
jectivity, a cool disinterestedness, and an understanding of 
scientific laws would make it possible to tell the truth. 


Although no one has yet published a full-scale study of 
the influence of Hippolyte Taine on American literature, 


both fiction 3 and criticism, the frequency with which his 
name is mentioned and his works referred to in critical 
studies 4 suggests that the influence was broad and deep. At 
least five Americans translated one or another of his works, 
and one of them, John Durand, translated several. 

William Morton Payne, as already suggested, held Taine 
in great respect. He had republished in Little Leaders 
(1895) the editorial article in which he had commemorated 
Taine as a brilliant exemplar of the "scientific method in 
historical criticism." Payne admits that many observers had 
pointed to limitations in Taine's method. Even so, the 
"tendency of modern criticism is unquestionably towards a 
scientific method; in history and philosophy it has already 
reached such a basis; that in art and literature it will eventu- 
ally come to such a basis we may hardly doubt." A scientific 
method "must show itself productive of similar results when 
employed by many different observers, and it must fulfill 
the supreme test of enabling us to forecast the future with 
certainty." Literature depends, according to Taine, on the 
race, moment, and milieu that produced it, and is, there- 
fore, rigorously determined. Virtue and vice, like vitriol 
and sugar, he had said, are the products of material causes. 

Anyone who attempts to study Taine's influence will un- 
doubtedly have a difficult job separating the strands of his 
influence from those deriving from earlier social critics. 
That literature cannot be wholly understood by a reader 
who knows little or nothing of the milieu in which it was 

3 Hamlin Garland, for example, acknowledged how important to him 
Taine's History of English Literature had been, and Edward Eggleston said 
Taine's History of Art in the Netherlands led him to employ local manners 
and local speech in his fiction. 

4 In their An Introduction to the Methods and Materials of Literary Criti- 
cism (1899), C. M. Gayley and F. N. Scott said: "The brilliancy of Taine's 
style and the glib simplicity of his system, have made his theories better 
known in this country than those of any other foreign writer." 


written was implicit in J. C. Herder's Ideen (1784-91); also, 
Mme de Stael in On Literature Considered in Relation with 
Social Institutions (1800) had claimed that romanticism 
and Protestantism go together because both exalt the in- 
dividual, whereas classicism and Catholicism go together 
because both respect formal discipline and exalt tradition. 
But Taine enlarged the conceptions of Herder and Mme de 
Stael, codified them, and made them explicit in his formula. 
The formula, modified or qualified, has been widely influ- 
ential. Tairie belonged also to a world that prided itself on 
its scientific realism, its positivism. It had an awesome re- 
spect for the powers of environment and heredity. Zola, fol- 
lowing Taine, had attempted to find a scientific way to write 

Subsequent criticism and scholarship have tended to re- 
duce Taine's triad to milieu, but under that to include 
social, political, and climatic environment as well as na- 
tionalism, regionalism, and traditionalism. Even biographi- 
cal studies in which an author is investigated in psycho- 
logical terms tend to be subsumed under milieu studies. 
Taine's shadow hovers in the background. How much he 
contributed to the Zeitgeist and how much he was himself 
a product of it seems difficult to decide. A simpler matter 
is to restate what some of the critics consciously borrowed, 
accepted, or rejected after reading his work. 

Sainte-Beuve was among the first to state the general criti- 
cism that has been directed against Taine's formula: "After 
every allowance is made for general and particular elements 
and circumstances, there remains place and space enough 
around men of talent to give them every freedom of moving 
and turning." Interestingly enough, we have in some detail 
Henry James's reaction to Taine. He reviewed H. Van 
Laun's translation of History of English Literature (pub- 


lished 1864; translated 1871) for The Atlantic Monthly. 
James appreciated the "massive work" but he was not un- 
aware of its limitations. "[Taine's] aim/' James said, "has 
been to establish the psychology of the people. ... It is a 
picture of the English intellect, with literary examples and 
allusions in evidence. ... Its purpose is to discover in the 
strongest features of the strongest works the temper of the 
race and time, which involves a considerable neglect not 
only of works but of features." In an aside, James observes 
that Taine's triad has "lately been reiterated to satiety." 
But the will to method, James implies, is an invitation to 
oversimplifications. "The truth for M. Taine lies stored 
up, as one might say, in great lumps and blocks, to be re- 
leased and detached by a few lively hammer blows; while 
for Sainte-Beuve it was a diffused and imponderable es- 
sence, as vague as carbon in the air which nourishes vegeta- 
tion, and, like it, to be disengaged by patient chemistry . . . 
and we cannot but think his frank provisional empiricism 
more truly scientific than M. Taine's premature philos- 
ophy. One may enjoy many incidental judgments if one 
neglects to hold Taine to his premises. There is a constantly 
visible hiatus between his formula and his application of 
it." Taine, as James implied, had an inordinate haste to 
reach conclusions. 

Some American readers of Taine were less critical than 
James. Hamilton Wright Mabie made proper acknowledg- 
ment in his Short Studies in Literature (1893) to the critical 
genius of Winckelmann, Lessing, Goethe, and Sainte-Beuve 
before making his bow to Taine. His chapters on race, sur- 
roundings, and time, despite their genteel tone, are further 
evidences of his acceptance of Taine as a master critic. Lewis 
E. Gates, in whose class at Harvard the young Frank Morris 
wrote Vandover and the Brute, published an article in The 


Nation the year Taine died in which he called the History 
"a magnificent achievement and a work of the greatest pos- 
sible significance/' Gates was primarily an impressionist, 
but in his article, which he republished in Studies and Ap- 
preciations (1900), he said that Taine ''stands as the one 
great representative of scientific method in the study of lit- 
erature/' Similarly, in the Introduction written for the 1900 
edition of the History, J. Scott Clark said that scholars owed 
a great deal to Taine. Hitherto they had spent their time 
writing vague generalities about a writer, but now, thanks 
to Taine, "the movement toward a true scientific method is 
already begun." Fred Lewis Pattee's A History of American 
Literature (1896) had, according to the Introduction, at 
least an avowed intention of following Taine's method. The 
actual debt to Taine seems slight. Bliss Perry's The Ameri- 
can Mind, published a number of years later, is profoundly 
indebted to Taine's method. In "Race, Nation and Book," 
the opening chapter, Perry says that whatever racial homo- 
geneity develops or has developed will be an amalgam of 
all our immigrant peoples and their multiple traditions; 
each work will have a regional or local as well as a national 
character; certain writers will have European models, others 
will write out of their feeling about the political aspects of 
the American mores; and some will appear almost to have 
escaped the time spirit. These possibilities should be kept 
in mind by anyone looking for the representative character 
of American books. Perry himself concludes that the "most 
characteristic American writing" is a "citizen literature," 5 
the "Federalist, and Garrison's editorials and Grant's Mem- 
oirs." It is not the "self-conscious literary performances of 

5 In The Atlantic Monthly for May 1901, J. D. Logan had found Ameri- 
can prose part of a "citizen literature," the chief characteristic of which is 
vigor and "manliness." 


a Poe or a Hawthorne." Perry has chapters on American 
idealism and individualism and fellowship. Perry's obser- 
vations, despite the genteel tone which tends, incidentally, 
to belie his thesis, are useful in the way a sociologist's or cul- 
tural historian's observations would be useful. That his 
thesis and method are not adequate to his subject, literary 
criticism, becomes evident when he is forced to treat the 
work of Poe or Hawthorne as "performances." Perry's book 
augurs Vernon Louis Parrington's Main Currents in Ameri- 
can Thought. The study of literature is the study of milieu. 
In Perry's thesis, citizen literature is both the more admir- 
able and the more characteristic part of the milieu. The 
status of the work as literature is largely irrelevant. 

There were, of course, a few voices like James's raised in 
warning against any too wholehearted acceptance or too 
narrow application of Taine's method, but almost always 
his critics acknowledged that his had been a major contri- 
bution to modern criticism. In The Masters of Modern 
French Criticism (1912), Irving Babbitt said that Taine 
possessed a great capacity for generalizing but added that 
Taine usually pushed his generalizations too far. Also, ac- 
cording to Babbitt, there was little evidence in Taine's criti- 
cism of any very deep spiritual or aesthetic insight. Brown- 
ell's Criticism (1914) furnished perhaps a fairer view of 
Taine's virtues and limitations. Brownell said that, fol- 
lowing Taine, it was impossible to see a purely belletris- 
tic approach to literature as other than antiquated. But 
Brownell was aware of two tendencies that inhered in 
Taine's method: 

It tends generally to impose its historical theory on the literary 
and esthetic facts, to discern their historical rather than their 
essential character; and, as inelastically applied, at all events, it 


tends specifically to accept its "documents" as final rather than 
as the very subjects of its concern. 

Taine's method of inferring characteristics of a milieu as 
they are evident in a piece of literature and of explaining 
the nature of the literature in terms of what it takes from 
the milieu is now a commonly accepted practice in the 
study of literature. Even when unacknowledged or forgot- 
ten, the influence of Taine has been very great. The in- 
fluence of Brunetiere, on the other hand, was for the most 
part only temporary, a part of the fascination caused by 
the concept of evolution. 


The doctrine of evolution, wrote William Morton Payne, 
in " American Literary Criticism and the Doctrine of Evo- 
lution," 6 is the master key to the secrets of nature and hu- 
man life. Evolution has given us a new geology, a new an- 
thropology, a new sociology, a new psychology, a new sense 
of brotherhood, and other boons. Has it, Payne asks, given 
us a new literary criticism? Yes, it has given us a scientific 
criticism to replace classical or judicial criticism (Boileau) 
and romantic criticism which exhibits the character of the 
work being discussed (Sainte-Beuve). Scientific criticism, 
like other intellectual disciplines in the new era, seeks to 
understand by asking how the phenomenon, the literary 
work, came about: the work is studied in its antecedents, 
the conditions under which the artist developed, the opin- 
ions current at the time, the psychological and physical pe- 
culiarities of the writer, and so forth. Taine and Brunetiere 
best exemplify such criticism. Taine, a pre-Darwinian, was 

6 International Monthly, II (July 1900), 26-46 and 127-53. 


scientific in that he studied literature as a product of race 
and environment, but it remained for Brunetire to add 
evolution to the formula, to make it "scientific in the most 
modern sense." 

Brunetire (who had visited the United States in 1897) 
had written the Preface for an English translation of Man- 
uel de I'histoire de la litterature in which he tried to sum- 
marize the virtues in his new method. Payne quotes the 
following passage with little or no realization that Brune- 
tire was far too willing to let analogy run riot: 

A given variety of literature, the English drama .of the six- 
teenth century, or the French comedy of the seventeenth cen- 
tury, or the English novel of the eighteenth century is in process 
of development slowly organizing itself under the double influ- 
ence of the interior and exterior environment. . . . Suddenly, 
and without its being possible to give the reason, a Shakespeare, 
a Moliere, or a Richardson appears, and forthwith not only is 
the variety modified, but new species have come into being: 
psychological drama, the comedy of character, the novel of man- 
ners. ... It is in vain that the older species attempt to strug- 
gle; their fate is sealed in advance. The successors of Richard- 
son, Moliere, and Shakespeare copy these unattainable models 
until, their fecundity being exhausted and by their fecundity 
I mean their aptitude for struggling with kindred and rival spe- 
ciesthe imitation is changed into a routine which becomes a 
source of weakness, impoverishment, and death for the species. 
I shall not easily be persuaded that this manner of considering 
the history of literature or art is calculated to detract from the 
originality of great artists or great writers. . . . Other advantages 
could be enumerated, but this is the principal: the combination 
or conciliation of "hero-worship," as understood by Emerson or 
Carlyle, with the doctrine of slowly operating influences and the 
action of contemporary circumstances. 

Awed by the concept of biological evolution, Brunettere, 
and Payne with him, made far too much of this thesis and 


neglected to consider many of the ways in which analogies 
from biological evolution do not work in discussion of liter- 
ary history: certain literary works forgotten or dead for gen- 
erations or centuries may suddenly reproduce. So-called 
"hybrid" forms like the novel or tragicomedy do reproduce 
their kind. And neither of these hybrids has shown any 
tendency to revert to either of its parent species. Further, 
no one can say whether Pope or Gray or Shakespeare is more 
characteristic of the English as a racial type, and even if 
one could, there is no accompanying formula for judging 
literary worth. Payne was an egregious voice of the new age, 
willing to see final and absolute answers in the latest forms 
of knowledge, but he was hardly alone in his enthusiasm. 

Aristotle, Horace, and most of the Renaissance critics had 
said that the "astonishing" and the "marvellous" are neces- 
sary attributes of literature, but Hjalmar Boyesen, study- 
ing the evolution of the German novel, Essays on German 
Literature (1892), was prepared in the name of the spirit 
of science to give up any such nonsense. "Fortunately, the 
beneficent scientific movement of recent years has revealed 
and is revealing to a constantly increasing number of men 
the true logic of existence, and teaching them to order their 
lives in accordance with certain ascertainable laws which 
will govern them either with or without their consent." 
What these laws are, Boyesen does not say. He does sug- 
gest, however, that the acceptance of the scientific spirit 
leads one to prefer the normal to the unusual. Those who 
rid themselves of their unscientific feelings will undoubt- 
edly "prefer Thackeray to Dickens, and perhaps Turgenieff 
to both." They could not be induced to read detective stor- 
ies (of the "astonishing" variety) "and they have at heart 
more respect even for Zola than for some of his sentimental 
confreres." The German novel, he says, has evolved, pro- 


gressed from a concern with the miraculous to the probable 
and normal. The novelist of today puts this question re- 
garding the incidents of his plot: "Are they likely to hap- 
pen?" The novelist of the future, however, will be satisfied 
with nothing less than assurance that "his premises given 
nothing else could have happened." 7 

If Boyesen could allow his faith in the ultimate powers 
of science to suggest an inevitable and rigorous determi- 
nism, he could, on the other hand, see that the novel of the 
future should more than likely require the complexity of 
form necessary to refract and evoke a sense of the complexi- 
ties of society: 

Evolution, according to one of the several definitions presented 
by Herbert Spencer, is a development from the homogeneous to 
the heterogeneous, and if the novel is to keep pace with life, it 
must necessarily be subject to the same development; it must, in 
its highest form, convey an impression of the whole complex 
machinery of the modern state and society, and, by implication 
at least, make clear the influences and surroundings which fash- 
ioned the hero's character and thus determined his career. To 
explain all these things in explicit language would, of course, 
require an encyclopedia, but there are yet other ways of making 
them present to the reader's consciousness. Thus in Thackeray's 
"The Newcombes," "Pendennis," and "Vanity Fair," we seem 
to hear the rush and roar of the huge city in which the scene is 
laid. The vigorous blood of the nineteenth century throbs and 
pulsates through every scene and chapter, and we have a sub- 

7 Boyesen, of course, was not alone in his narrow determinism. Theodore 
Dreiser, as he recalls in A Book About Myself, discovered very early in the 
i8go's Herbert Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy (First Principles). Spencer, 
Dreiser wrote, "quite blew me, intellectually, to bits." After such knowledge 
he could believe only this: "Of one's ideals, struggles, deprivations, sorrows 
and joys, it could only be said that they were chemic compulsions, some- 
thing for which for some inexplicable but unimportant reason responded 
to and resulted from the hope of pleasure and the fear of pain. Man was a 
mechanism, undevised and uncreated, and a badly and carelessly driven one 
at that." 


consciousness of the noisy metropolitan life even in the quietest 
domestic episodes. 

In the latter part of the quotation Boyesen is saying pretty 
much what James said in "The Art of Fiction": that one 
knows the whole pattern from the suggestive detail, but it 
is interesting that Boyesen introduces the name of Herbert 
Spencer as authority for part of his statement. 


Advocates of the spirit of realism found themselves look- 
ing into the relationship between realism and the life of 
the common man and therefore of democracy and socialism. 
Perhaps the realism of a critic like Howells is best explored 
in such terms. It is nonetheless true that many of the advo- 
cates of realism in criticism, as well as in fiction, frequently 
made their appeals in the name of science. More specifically, 
they made their appeals through such terms and concepts 
as environment, heredity, determinism, evolution, and ob- 
jectivity. Sometimes the appeals are to analogies that are 
irrelevant to literary considerations. When not employed 
irrelevantly or reductively, however, a number of the con- 
cepts introduced by scientific-minded critics make for use- 
ful insights, and they also give one a sense of dealing with 
reality as it appears to the twentieth-century mind. 


.HILOSOPHERS, moralists, and literary cri- 
tics have held heated arguments over the opposition be- 
tween beauty of form and the truth of philosophical prin- 
ciple and moral law. The quarrel is ancient and apparently 
continuous. It is in Plato, Boethius, Boccaccio, Sidney, Mil- 
ton, Shelley, Arnold, Tolstoy, Wilde, James, Croce, and 
Babbitt. In recent years, however, critics have generally 
avoided the worst extremes. 

Traditionally, at least after Horace, the key terms seem 
to have been "utile" and "dulce." The terms are misleading 
because they suggest the sweetening or the making palata- 
ble of a useful subject. "Form" is preferable to "dulce" if 
it suggests, as it should, the discovering and evoking of mul- 
tiple meanings and significances in a subject matter. Utile 
and dulce invite the assumption that a subject is somehow 
actual, achieved, or complete to begin with and requires 


merely a little reorganization and an entertaining or beau- 
tiful style to become literature. The terms do not suggest 
the process whereby the writer creates his subject. 

Utile leads to stressing moralistic, didactic, or utilitarian 
purposes as the center of criticism. Dulce, as the Vart pour 
I' art theorists exemplify, leads to stressing the enjoyment 
and inutility of art. The Victorian world for the most part 
accepted these extremes and took sides. H. B. Fuller could 
have one of his characters say to a young artist: "Some of 
your work is not without traces of style; and I suppose style 
is what you are after. But meat for me." And Hamlin Gar- 
land insisted that "truth [is] a higher quality than beauty." 
James McNeill Whistler's The Gentle Art of Making Ene- 
mies (1890) was an important document in the quarrel, 
deliberately baiting those who found art moral and use- 
ful. And George Santayana in his influential The Sense 
of Beauty (1896) said, "beauty is an ultimate good. . . . 
Beauty is therefore a positive value that is intrinsic; it is a 
pleasure. These two circumstances sufficiently separate the 
sphere of esthetics from that of ethics." Santayana was right 
in emphasizing that literature is an art of expression, but 
an investigation of literary art in terms of organic form or 
expressive form would have precluded the separation of 
aesthetics and ethics. 

Twentieth-century criticism in America inherits the prin- 
ciple of organic form from Coleridge and his American dis- 
ciple Poe (from Poe's theory rather than his practice). As a 
matter of fact, it can be found in a number of places. F. O. 
Matthiessen in American Renaissance (1941) finds it, in 
similar terms, in Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman: 

In developing his proposition that "it is not metres, but a metre- 
making argument that makes a poem," Emerson held that the 


essential thought from which a poem rises must be "so passion- 
ate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has 
an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing." 
Thoreau said in the Week: "As naturally as the oak bears the 
acorn, and the vine a gourd, man bears a poem . . . since his 
song is a vital function like breathing, and an integral result 
like weight." . . . Thoreau spoke of a poem as a "natural fruit," 
as "one undivided, unimpeded expression fallen ripe into litera- 
ture," a sentence that found extension in the first preface to 
Leaves of Grass: "The rhyme and uniformity of perfect poems 
show the free growth of metrical laws, and bud from them as 
unerringly and loosely as lilacs or roses on a bush, and take 
shapes as compact as the shapes of chestnuts and oranges, and 
melons and pears, and shed the perfume impalpable to form." 

The term "organic form'' is useful, but the analogy with 
natural growth is undoubtedly inexact, because it neglects 
the conscious, critical element in composition and stresses 
or overemphasizes the unconscious, romantic side. Further- 
more, neither Emerson, Thoreau, nor Whitman discusses 
the way in which form helps to discover and evaluate sub- 
ject matter. Henry James, on the other hand, did furnish 
such discussion. 

Perhaps Henry James, more clearly than any of his Vic- 
torian contemporaries, understood the issues criticism was 
facing. His own curiosity, intelligence, and education made 
this understanding possible. As early as the i86o's he was 
writing reviews for The North American Review, The Na- 
tion, and other journals; he was examining the assumptions 
of the Victorian novelists and beginning to search out the 
principles of the art of fiction. After reading George Eliot 
and Balzac, for example, he considered some of the prob- 
lems of morality in fiction and some of the meanings of 
realism. Living in France, he became acquainted with 
Turgenyev, Flaubert, and Daudet; he learned the history 


of, and was witnessing contemporary attempts to merge, 
naturalistic and symbolist theories of fiction. A part of his 
education in these matters is recorded in French Poets and 
Novelists (1878) and Partial Portraits (1888). In Hawthorne 
(1879) he had considered the novelist's relationship to the 
soil, manners, and traditions of his own country. Through 
his friendship with and admiration for Robert Louis 
Stevenson and Joseph Conrad he could sympathize with at 
least two kinds of romance denied him by his own experi- 
ences and subject matter. 

James was able to rise above the conflicting schools to 
consider the elements of truth, or the partial truths, in the 
cults of I' art pour l'art } to consider the elements of the real, 
of documentation, and of scientific and moral determinism. 
James did not accept any of the easy formulations. In a 
characteristic and quite moving passage he defines the cri- 
tic's function: 

To lend himself, to project himself, to feel and feel till he un- 
derstands, and to understand so well that he can say, and to have 
perception at the pitch of passion and expression as embracing 
as the air, to be infinitely curious and incorrigibly patient, and 
yet plastic and inflammable and determinable, patient, stoop- 
ing to conquer and yet serving to direct these are for an active 
mind, chances to add the idea of independent beauty to the 
conception of success. Just in proportion as he is sentient and 
restless, just in proportion as he reacts and reciprocates and 
penetrates, is the critic a valuable instrument. 

By centering the act of criticism in the individual work 
and bringing to it not merely sympathy but general knowl- 
edge and a trained sensibility, James implied that opposing 
the real and the true or the beautiful and the useful was a 
fallacious view of the literary object, the work of art. 


Early and late in his criticism James says there is no sub- 
ject matter forbidden the artist. His own perceptions, taste, 
and sensibility must be depended upon. Without them he 
cannot create "a sense of life" and if he cannot do that he 
is not an artist. Repeatedly James refers to the special case, 
free from fixed moral or social conventions and free from 
fixed formulas for fiction. The subject matter becomes a 
novel only after the novelist has transformed it. After the 
vision of the novelist is bodied forth it is then subject to 
criticism in terms of the quality of the discriminations, and 
in terms of the success with which the artist has brought his 
idea vividly and fully alive. Behind these insistencies was 
James's opposition to the hoary fallacies, first, that moral 
literature is a simple and fixed truth pleasantly or beauti- 
fully uttered, and, second, that the reality of the subject 
matter or story is somehow lessened or made unreal by a 
preoccupation with the techniques of fiction. 

In the Preface to The Portrait of a Lady we have his in- 
sistence that moral issues involve discriminations inside the 
given case (and his favorite novel, The Ambassadors, is es- 
sentially a dramatization of this particular point): 

Here we get exactly the high price of the novel as a literary 
form its power not only, while preserving that form with close- 
ness, to range through all the differences of the individual rela- 
tion to its general subject-matter, all the varieties of outlook on 
life, of disposition to reflect and project, created by conditions 
that are never the same from man to man (or, as far as that goes, 
from woman to woman), but positively to appear more true to 
its character in proportion as it strains, or tends to burst, with 
a latent extravagance, its mould. 

James separated morality and artistic processes, but he did 
not separate morality and inspiration or morality and artis- 


tic effect: "It is in reality simply a part of the essential rich- 
ness of inspirationit has nothing to do with the artistic 
process and it has everything to do with the artistic effect." 
James knew that the faculties of the mind influence one an- 
other and are mutually dependent. "There is one point/' 
he said, "at which the moral sense and the artistic sense lie 
very near together; that is in the light of the very obvious 
truth that the deepest quality of a work of art will always be 
the quality of the mind of the producer. 1 * 

James also knew that the fear of technique and the fear 
of style (because they were said to alter reality, that is, the 
objective subject matter or story) implied a naive concep- 
tion of the process of creating fiction. His clearest statement 
of this matter is in "The Art of Fiction" (1884), an answer 
to an article by Walter Besant: 

"The story," if it represents anything, represents the subject, 
the idea, the donnee of the novel; and there is surely no "school" 
Mr. Besant speaks of a school which urges that a novel should 
be all treatment and no subject. There must assuredly be some- 
thing to treat; every school is intimately conscious of that. This 
sense of the story being the idea, the starting point, of the novel, 
is the only one that I see in which it can be spoken of as some- 
thing different from its organic whole; and since in proportion 
as the work is successful the idea permeates and penetrates it, 
informs and animates it, so that every word and every punctua- 
tion point contribute directly to the expression, in that propor- 
tion do we lose our sense of the story being a blade which may 
be drawn more or less out of its sheath. The story and the novel, 
the idea and the form, are the needle and thread, and I never 
heard of a guild of tailors who recommend the use of the thread 
without the needle, or the needle without the thread. 

Realism is not merely the delineation of observed experi- 


This does not mean, of course, that James completely 
deplored the movement in fiction which, before all else, 
wanted to reflect actuality. He admired the spirit behind 
documentation and accumulating knowledge. He said that 
a story should achieve a "saturation of reality." He did de- 
plore those novels, indifferent to form, which were com- 
posed without a controlling or with an ill-understood in- 
tention. He did not believe there was any irreconcilability 
between fact and mind, between reality and imagination. 
The imaginative mind moves toward ideal constructions 
in order that "true meanings" can be "born." The thematic 
line or idea in a story, James said, was a more or less gen- 
eral truth. Usually it can be expressed in a sentence or two. 
The artist, considering the "given case," must extract a pat- 
tern of significant meaning. Life itself "has no direct sense 
whatever for the subject." James disagreed with those who 
find large "amounts of life" the most important part of fic- 
tion. A sense of life, a feeling of actuality should permeate 
it, but James would have the theme and the pattern it in- 
formed and quickened "washed free of awkward accretions 
and hammered into sacred hardness." 

James influenced a few of his fellow writers, most notably 
Edith Wharton 1 and Ford Madox Ford, but the effect of 
his criticism, during most of his own lifetime, apparently 
was not great. When he was writing the prefaces (1907-9) 
for the famous New York edition of his stories, he wrote to 
Howells of the "almost universal Anglo-Saxon absence" of 
a discriminating criticism. This, of course, was toward the 
end of his career. But the prefaces, especially after they 
were collected by R. P. Blackmur under the title The Art 

l Her The Writing of Fiction (1925) repeats many of the discussions to 
be found in James's essays and prefaces. It is a useful and intelligent volume, 
but it lacks the intensity and highly refined perceptivenebs that characterize 
James's criticism. 


of the Novel (1934), have been influential. The many sub- 
jects and principles James treats or touches on in them 
cannot be gone into here, but as a sample one can call at- 
tention to his discussions of "foreshortening" and observe 
that it, too, relates to his lifelong concern that neither plot 
nor "huge amounts of life" be equated with the story, the 
objective reality. Foreshortening conduced, he said, "to the 
only compactness that has charm, to the only spareness that 
has a force, to the only simplicity that has a grace those, in 
each order, that produced the rich effect." Obviously, fore- 
shortening implies an act of intelligence on the part of the 
novelist, 'a control of the story by heightening the quality 
of the representation and quickening the intensity and real- 
ization of the theme. Similarly, one finds that the frequent 
discussions of art in relation to morality or art in relation 
to life always include a recognition on James's part that 
there is no "guild of tailors who recommend the use of 
the thread without the needle, or the needle without the 


James, by showing how theme, intelligence, morality, and 
a sense of life "compose one structure," might be thought 
to have answered the content versus form question for some 
time. That it was not settled is evident from Spingarn's 
"The New Criticism" (1910) and Creative Criticism: Es- 
says on the Unity of Genius and Taste (1917). "Every poet," 
Spingarn said in "The New Criticism," "re-expresses the 
universe in his own way, and every poem is a new and in- 
dependent expression." Style, he continued, "cannot be 
dissociated from art." Spingarn was a disciple of Benedetto 
Croce, but there is little in his criticism that is foreign to 


the principles formulated by Coleridge and James. Each 
would have agreed with him that the "technique of poetry 
cannot be separated from its inner nature." 

Yet neither Coleridge nor James would have felt under 
the necessity, as Spingarn did in this early essay, of refusing 
to admit general discussions of technique, of genre, of the- 
ories of style, or of literature as social or moral document. 2 
Spingarn concluded that the "identity of genius and taste 
is the final achievement of modern thought on the subject 
of art." The critic who can identify himself with the genius 
evident in the work of art is a creative critic. But Spingarn 
neglected to say that only a critic with the necessary na- 
tive sensibility and a wide knowledge of techniques, genres, 
styles, and so forth, could have the requisite taste. 3 

One of Spingarn's most pointed and effective analyses of 
organic form is "Prose and Verse," a chapter in Creative 
Criticism. In this essay Spingarn insisted that the newer 
aesthetic criticism has made it clear "that rhythm and metre 
must be regarded as aesthetically identical with style, as 
style is identical with artistic form, and form in its turn is 
the work of art in its spiritual and indivisible self." Spin- 
garn, for example, considered that the advocates and the 
opponents of free verse were conducting their quarrel on 
the same assumptions namely, that anapaests, trochees, he- 

2 One of the best criticisms of "The New Criticism" was written by Ran- 
dolph Bourne, then an undergraduate, in "Art and Suicide," Columbia 
Monthly (March 1911), pp. 189 If. 

3 Some years later, in "Scholarship and Criticism" (1922), Spingarn ad- 
mitted that in "The New Criticism" he had not stressed "all the phases of a 
critic's duty." In 1910, he said, the pedants and the professors had been in 
the ascendant. Most of them knew the history of criticism but were generally 
indifferent to the poem itself in its livingness as art. He had therefore stressed 
the oneness of criticism and creation, appearing to be quite close to those 
impressionists who reproduced the work in order to understand and judge 
it. By 1921 the amateurs and journalists were in the ascendant and it was 
then necessary to "write an Essay on the Divergence of Criticism and Crea- 


roic couplets, or iambics signify mathematical succession of 
beats or accents. A series of iambic lines, he pointed out, 
whether by the same poet or collected from different poets, 
will "differ in the degree of their regularity of rhythm. 
There can be infinite variations in the stresses or pauses. 
No two lines probably are ever quite the same. There is a 
fundamental distinction between the mechanical whirr of 
machinery, or the ticking of a clock, and the inner or spirit- 
ual rhythm of human speech/' The classifications of rhythms 
are mere conveniences, like speaking of tall men and short 
men or large books and small books, "without assuming 
that the adjectives imply fundamental distinctions of qual- 
ity or character." To confuse such abstract classifications 
with artistic realities is "to confuse form as concrete expres- 
sion with form as ornament or a dead husk." The poet 
writes out of himself. Every subject is a new subject because 
it is made so by the imagination and the stamp of the in- 
dividual poet. 

/Spingarn's early program for the creative critic seems, as 
he later recognized, very close to the program of those among 
the impressionists who were more concerned to re-create the 
work than to exhibit their own delicate sensibilities/ Spin- 
garn wanted the critic to be intimately sensitive to each of 
the details in a literary work. It may be worth noting that 
James held Sainte-Beuve in high esteem largely because he 
could penetrate a work in such a fashion: 

Sainte-Beuve had nerves assuredly; there is something feminine 
in his tact, his penetration, his subtlety and pliability, his rapid- 
ity of transition, his magical divinations, his sympathies and 
antipathies, his marvelous art of insinuation, of expressing him- 
self by fine touches and of adding touch to touch. 

But James added that these faculties were reinforced by 
others of a more masculine stamp 


the completeness, the solid sense, the constant reason, the mod- 
eration, the copious knowledge, the passion for exactitude and 
for general considerations. 

James, of course, knew that "general considerations,'' even 
rules, providing the spirit not the letter is observed, are 
necessary. In "Scholarship and Criticism," Spingarn said 
that the "anarchy of impressionism is a natural reaction 
against . . . mechanical theories and jejune text-books, but 
it is a temporary haven and not a home." Criticism needs 
scholarship and it needs rigorous thought in aesthetics. But 
Spingarn had not entirely quit the impressionists. Judg- 
menTTs ^necessary, but IFIs i possible ^orJIy^tcTa mffrpf^aste. 
Therefore,"^ the third arid~greatest need of American criti- 
cism is a deeper sensibility, a more complete submission to 
the imaginative will of the artist, before attempting to rise 
above it into the realm of judgement." 

Later still, in one of his "Literature and the New Era" 
lectures (1931) at the New School for Social Research, 4 
Spingarn also modified or at least clarified his earlier re- 
marks in "The New Criticism" on morality in literature. 
"We have done," he had written, "with all moral judge- 
ment of art as art. ... It is not the inherent function of 
poetry to further any moral or social cause, any more than 
it is the function of bridge-building to further the cause 
of Esperanto." The tone of Spingarn's commentary on the 
place of morality invited misunderstanding, and, as a mat- 
ter of fact, he did overstate his case. Morality, as James said, 
is part of the "inspiration," the original conception, and it 
is a part of the effect of a literary work. Spingarn, in one of 
the 1931 lectures, made it clear that he had not intended to 
say that morality is not inherent in a literary work: 

4 Only one of these lectures has been published: "Politics and the Poet," 
The Atlantic Monthly, CLXX (November 1942), 73-78. 


You will see ... that I object to a distinction which Professor 
Irving Babbitt has made between what he calls the ethical and 
idyllic imagination. Great works of art have the ethical im- 
agination, he says, and ordinary second-rate works of art have 
merely the idyllic imagination. Of course the imagination in 
the sense in which it creates a kind of order out of chaos in itself 
may be said to be moral in the sense in which any ordering or 
concept of ordering the universe is a moral order. In that sense, 
of course, to speak of ethical imagination is the same as speak- 
ing of edible food because you see in a real sense the moral con- 
science behind every personality, behind the idyllic imagination 
and behind the ethical imagination. 

Spinga'rn's position, like Croce's, is an expression of philo- 
sophical idealism. Implicit in certain expressions of realism 
in literature has been the assumption that external nature 
is the real world, and that the writer, therefore, is obligated 
to see, feel, and express it as it actually is. Philosophical 
idealism, of course, finds reality in the mind, including the 
mind's power to transform matter. All the subjectivist move- 
ments in literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centu- 
riesromanticism, symbolism, impressionism, and so forth 
are likely to insist on expressive form. 


Remy de Gourmont, for whom Eliot and Pound ex- 
pressed the highest admiration (and who was represented in 
Ludwig Lewisohn's A Modern Book of Criticism [1919]), 
pointed out in Le probleme du style (1902) that "style and 
thought are one." (Neither Pound nor Eliot, however, has 
especially noted this part of his work.) The style of Ernest 
Kenan's La vie de Jesus wavers, Gourmont said, because 
the conception is uncertain. Works which are well thought 
out are invariably well written. "It is a mistake to try to 


separate form from substance/' Seen in relation to the in- 
dividual writer, style is a "specialization of sensibility/' This 
emphasis caused him to be concerned with what Pound, in 
"Rmy de Gourmont" (1919), discussed as the modality of 
the individual voice. And it caused him, as Eliot observed 
in The Sacred Wood (1920), to inquire and elucidate to 
avoid legislating before generalizing. Gourmont is in the 
tradition of Aristotle and Coleridge rather than of Horace 
and Boileau. If Gourmont, as Eliot says, has been the "criti- 
cal consciousness of his generation," the reason undoubt- 
edly lies in his insistence on examining a work as the ex- 
pression of an individual sensibility. 

Eliot's own description in "Tradition and the Individual 
Talent" (1917) of the poet as one capable of forming new 
wholes from unlike elements or from diverse situations, 
from "the noise of the typewriter [and] the smell of cook- 
ing," implies that the poet creates and forms his material- 
there is no ready-made subject for him. And Pound's bril- 
liant insight into the nature of the image "An image is 
that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex 
in an instant of time" also implies the view of artist as 
maker. In other words, the poetic practice and critical the- 
ory of Eliot and Pound 5 imply the principle of expressive 

5 The criticism of Ezra Pound is difficult to evaluate. Eliot stated his 
gratitude for Pound's blue-penciling of The Waste Land, and Ernest Hem- 
ingway has acknowledged his perceptiveness in criticizing fiction manu- 
scripts. Pound was a generous admirer of the critical or artistic gifts of his 
elders and contemporaries-of James, Ford, Gourmont, T. E. Hulme, Joyce, 
William Carlos Williams, or Eliot. And in a sense he gave himself to his 
generation. His letters and articles in Poetry, Reedy's Mirror, Blast, The 
Dial, The Egoist, The Exile, or The Fortnightly Review, and the many 
others are filled with advice, some of it bombast, some of it indirect self- 
acclaim, and some of it brilliant insights into the nature of art and the 
needs of modern art. Reading through books such as Pavannes and Divisions 
(1918), Instigations (1920), How to Read (1930), or Make It New (1934) one 
feels in the presence of issues and battles fought long ago. Perhaps a part of 
the Pound tragedy was his inability to stay with a movement imagism, 
objectivism, or vorticism until he had systematized his insights. His was a 


form. Whether or not they consciously derived their theory 
from Gourmont is of no considerable moment. 

Throughout the twenties there were occasional protests 
against the rather frequent assumption that transcripts from 
experience were viable as literature. Carl Van Doren in 
"Document and Work of Art" 6 (1925) said that in their 
zeal to tell the truth about their age some novelists had 
"got into the habit of thinking that a document is an end 
in itself." The reverence for raw material had, he con- 
tinued, become a superstition. Yet Van Doren in the same 
essay could mention content and form as though they were 
quite distinct and separate entities. 

Such a confusion was not peculiar to Van Doren. It was, 
in a sense, forced on a society which wanted facts, docu- 
mentation, or what James called "huge amounts of life." 
Even Clive Bell, the English art critic who gave his con- 
temporaries the phrase "significant form," could, at least 
in his conception of literature, divorce content from form. 
"Significant form," he had said, consists of the expression 
of the artist's emotion, which is unrelated to "life values" 
or to delight in representation. Significant form may appear 
in pictures that represent something (a beautiful woman or 
a vase) but the "esthetic emotion" which is peculiar to gen- 
uine works of art is aroused only by "arrangements and 
combinations"; the representative element, however inter- 
esting, is irrelevant. But in an article, "The 'Difference' of 

disordered but a suggestive, seminal mind. It could well be that there is 
no brief statement that better suggests the nature of the modern aesthetic 
than his "An image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional 
complex in an instant of time." See, for example, his article on vorticism 
in The Fortnightly Review (September 1914). Ray West has summarized 
Pound's criticism in "Ezra Pound and Contemporary Criticism," Western 
Review, V (1949), 192-200. 

6 This article is available in Contemporary American Criticism, ed. J. C. 


Literature/' for The New Republic (1922) he said that al- 
though "significant form" accounted for almost everything 
in the art of painting it apparently counted for little in the 
art of literature: 

The fact is, subject and the overtones emanating from it, 
wit, irony, pathos, drama, criticism, didacticism even qualities 
which in painting count for little or nothing do seem to be 
the essence of literature. . . . So, when a writer tries to confine 
himself to territory which he can cultivate in common with 
painting and music, when he reduces content and its overtones 
to a minimum, when he sets himself to create form which shall 
be abstractly beautiful, he invariably comes short of greatness; 
what is worse, he is apt to be a bore. 

Llewellyn Jones, reviewer for the Chicago Evening Post, 
undertook to answer Bell. Mr. Jones's article was entitled 
"Art, Form and Expression," and it also appeared in The 
New Republic in 1922. Mr. Bell is surely wrong, he said, 
in saying that in literature 

content is more than form and different from it. ... That the 
content is invariably molded by form is nicely shown by A. C. 
Bradley in his Oxford Lectures on Poetry. He quotes Byron's 

Bring forth the horse! The horse was brought. 
In truth he was a noble steed. 

Now we could change the form and leave the content intact by 
reading "steed" to begin with, the "horse" in the last line. Try 
it and see what happens. Is the content the same? 

Jones concluded the article by rehearsing a theory of ex- 
pressive form based in part on Croce. William Brownell 
also asserted the importance of the principle in The Genius 
of Style (1924), referring to it as "architectonic" and apply- 


ing it to music, architecture, and art as well as literature. 
The writer, he said in his rather pretentious way, "vitalizes 
the parts by permeating them with a sense of the whole, and 
thus gives everywhere the feeling of completeness, of forces 
in the repose of equipose in contrast to stagnation or even 
stasis." So too did Stark Young, one of the best drama critics 
of the period, insist on the principle of substance and form 
being one. He found Street Scene (1929) "a farrago of living 
matter with the sting taken out of it," adding that "it must 
be a very elementary principle that the essential idea of a 
work of art goes through it, and that the themes and con- 
ceptions to be expressed must lie inherently in the sub- 
stance of it, and that they are to be expressed in creation, 
not in superimposed sentiments." Similarly, Young found 
the last act of Winter set (1935) to be bad poetry and bad 
drama on the same grounds that conception and expres- 
sion are inseparable: "The defects in Winterset, in the last 
act especially, are not due to the fact that the poetic form 
is being employed, but rather that the poetry is bad, bad 
either per se or bad in relation to the scene it comes to the 
same thing." But perhaps Paul Elmer More's discovery in 
his essay "Lycidas," in On Being Human (1936), of the con- 
tent versus form problem is indicative of a general uncon- 

A few years earlier in Counter-Statement (1931), Kenneth 
Burke, a close student of Gourmont's criticism, had noted 
that the seeming breach between form and subject is a con- 
sequence of introducing scientific criteria into matters re- 
quiring aesthetic judgment. He observed that a contempo- 
rary writer had objected to Joyce's Ulysses on the ground 
that there is more information about psychoanalysis in 
Freud! Presumably Burke is also saying that the breach is a 
consequence of our wanting to believe that fact or content 


in literature is, like laws of physics or known chemical reac- 
tions, objective and that verified truths can be put inside a 
pleasing form. Such assumptions, of course, are not applica- 
ble to literature. They do not allow for the basic consider- 
ation that a given theme is worked out in terms of the given 
case, and in accordance with the author's own values. The 
author employs all the minutiae of style, as Burke suggests, 
to discover the potential meanings in a subject and to evalu- 
ate them not as information merely but as information 
realized in a convincing and moving way. 

The critics of Burke's generation seem to have found in 
the criticism of James not merely the principle of organic 
form but a methodology, terms and concepts, for getting in- 
side the work. They have returned less often, if at all, to 
Spingarn's work because he did not leave such a method- 
ology. R^my de Gourmont they have assimilated, for the 
most part, indirectly. All three, but James especially, have 
been of great importance because they helped make it pos- 
sible to avoid an allegiance to utile and content on the one 
hand or dulce and form on the other, the recurrent and 
ancient fallacies of content versus form and truth or mor- 
ality versus beauty. 


WILSON somewhere notes that 
the generation before his own grew up with a vision of 
America after the Civil War as arid, incapable of produc- 
ing literary work of merit, and even suspicious of anything 
that did manage to bloom. John Macy, for example, had 
made pretty much the same point in The Spirit of Ameri- 
can Literature (1913). Our literature, he said, was an off- 
shoot of English; it lacked an American spirit. "American 
literature is on the whole idealistic, sweet, delicate, nicely 
finished/' W. C. Brownell, true to the spirit Wilson de- 
scribes, could decline Van Wyck Brooks's America's Com- 
ing-of-Age (1915) for Scribner's, apparently because it had 
the quality of the new America which was attempting to 


discover and define itself. Nonetheless, the affirmation of 
the new America was soon under way in various parts of the 
country. Critical studies of American writers done in the 
new spirit began to appear, such as Amy Lowell's Tenden- 
cies in Modern American Poetry (1917), Joseph Warren 
Beach's The Method of Henry James (1918), and Carl Van 
Doren's Contemporary American Novelists (1922). Harry 
Hansen's Midwest Portraits (1923), half reminiscences and 
half literary criticism, provided a good account of the vital- 
ity of the Chicago renaissance, with valuable sketches of the 
many novelists, poets, critics, and editors who took part in 
it. Academic figures like John Erskine and Henry Seidel 
Canby, as well as the Van Dorens, took their scholarship 
into the field of literary journalism. Thereafter at least a 
portion of literary scholars tried to find a meeting ground 
with the educated public. There was a new spirit in the air 
which, earlier, John Butler Yeats had caught in a mem- 
orable phrase: "The fiddles are tuning all over America." 
Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Lewis Mumford, 
Paul Rosenfeld, and other critics associated with them made 
America self-conscious about its intellectual life and cul- 
ture in a way that academic critics in the genteel tradition 
of Lowell, the sophisticated tradition of Huneker, or the 
scientific-minded tradition of Taine had been unable to 
do. There is no highly consistent pattern in their work, but 
they provided useful terms and attitudes. They wrote about 
the need for an intelligentsia to furnish criticism and a body 
of literature. They alternately ridiculed the genteel tradi- 
tion and saw great virtues in the American past. They saw 
in socialism a means of ending an era of economic exploita- 
tion. They employed the terms "unity," "wholeness," and 
"organic" in attempts to create a myth in which Whitman's 
optimistic dream about a democratic land with spiritual 


and creative values might be urged into being. They were 
extremely useful and influential despite their frequent em- 
ployment of hortatory tracts and a gospel tone and their 
willingness to be carried away from an explicit concern 
with literary texts. Less given to the creating of literary 
myths than those centering around Bourne and Brooks was 
a somewhat similar group, under the reluctant leadership 
of Carl Van Doren, who contributed to The Nation. 

Members of both groups would have agreed with Stuart 
Pratt Sherman's note in the Herald Tribune in 1924 that 
"the most fascinating aspect of American life today is the 
ascent into articulate self-consciousness of that element of 
our people which Emerson called 'the Jacksonian rabble' 
and the relative decline toward artistic inexpressiveness 
of that element which Barrett Wendell called 'the better 
sort.' " 

Randolph Bourne, a legendary figure during a decade 
or more following his premature death in 1918, belongs, 
so far as literary history is concerned, with the Van Wyck 
Brooks of America's Coming-of-Age. Like Brooks, he was 
attempting to understand and then destroy anything pre- 
venting America's cultural development. 1 There should be, 
he said, a "Trans-National America." There were diverse 
racial and cultural traditions that had not been assimilated. 
The indigenous Americans Emerson to Howells "are ele- 
vated to eminence by our cultural makers of opinion," who 
also cause immigrants to drop their Old World heritage 
and thereby create "hordes of men and women without a 

1 When Bourne returned from Europe in 1914, where he had traveled 
on a Columbia University fellowship, he wrote articles on city planning, 
feminism, college reform, and books: The Gary Schools (1916) and Educa- 
tion and Living (1917). As an undergraduate he had published Youth and 
Life (1913). Following his death James Oppenheim edited Untimely Papers 
(1919), and Brooks edited The History of a Literary Radical and Other Es- 
says (1920). 


spiritual country, cultural outlaws, without taste, without 
standards but those of the mob/' The solution, he added, 
should not be sought in another "weary old nationalism/' 
but in cosmopolitanism. "In a world which has dreamed of 
internationalism, we find that we have all unawares been 
building up the first international nation." America, he 
said, was coming to be a "trans-nationality, a weaving back 
and forth ... of many threads of all sizes and colors." 

In the service of American culture one had to oppose not 
only the older critics who served a petrified tradition but 
also the "pachydermous vulgarisms" of "Mr. Mencken and 
Mr. Dreiser and their friends." Bourne was opposed to the 
study of classical languages, but he also felt it necessary to 
look into the Latin writers if only to inoculate himself 
against the genteel orthodoxy he was attempting to destroy. 
The sensibility of a new, a cultivated American critic would 
be formed by the modern world by Gorky and Chekhov as 
well as by Twain. The critic needed "an abounding sense of 
life" and a "feeling for literary form." Borrowing from 
abroad, he would work to interpret American life. Eventu- 
ally a new classicism would evolve, but it would be "some- 
thing worked out and lived into." 

The prophets of the prewar years H. G. Wells, Shaw, 
Nietzsche, Maeterlinck, and John Dewey were also 
Bourne's. As Seward Collins noted in defending the New 
Humanists from attacks by the young humanitarians, 
Bourne tended to identify allegiances to the past with ob- 
scurantism. He apparently sensed nothing ingenuous in his 
stating that "youth [is] the incarnation of reason pitted 
against the rigidity of tradition," nor in his asking "why 
bother with Greek when you get Euripides in the marvel- 
lous verse of Gilbert Murray?" The new freedom for chil- 
dren in elementary and secondary schools, he believed, 


would lead to throwing off further shackles. But the chief 
road to the New Jerusalem was socialism: "Abolish this 
hostile attitude of classes toward each other by abolishing 
class struggle. Abolish class struggle by abolishing classes." 
Bourne's belligerent pacifism after America joined the Al- 
lies and his constant carping about the faults of the state 
also suggest that there may have been a deep-seated per- 
versity in his mind. 

Had he lived, Brooks believes, Bourne would have turned 
from politics and social concerns to a more strictly literary 
criticism. What his value might have been after he had 
matured as a critic it is impossible to say. There are, how- 
ever, suggestive bits that may indicate where his allegiances 
would have been: he urged that modern literature be taught 
in the colleges; he wanted critics and writers to discover 
a "usable past" in Thoreau, Twain, Whitman, in those writ- 
ers "not tainted by sweetness and light"; and he defined the 
classics as "power with restraint, vitality with harmony, a 
fusion of intellect and feeling." Quite possibly the legend 
that immediately grew about Bourne had several causes. 
He could write a corrosive prose, and he was a brilliant con- 
versationalist. He was a slight little gargoyle, a hunchback 
in a flowing black cape, who was capable of making his ac- 
quaintances forget his disabilities and give him their strong 
loyalty. He was also a radical and a pacifist. As his friends 
matured in the 1920*5 and pacifism and radical activities 
grew, the memory of Bourne grew with them. John Dos 
Passos gave him a place in [/. S. A., and Horace Gregory 
wrote a poem about him. By those who do not belong to 
that generation, Bourne is likely to be remembered only 
as one who helped lead the assault on tradition in educa- 
tion, economics, government, and literature, as one who 
took great pride in opposing his elders, in being a modern. 


Van Wyck Brooks, after fumbling attempts in his first 
volumes, succeeded in formulating a point of view and 
stating an ideal which developed and extended the criti- 
cism Bourne had written. The Wine of the Puritans (1908), 
published in England where Brooks spent a year and a half 
after his graduation from Harvard, is a dialogue between 
two effete young men. They find America gauche, ugly, and 
low-brow, a land with the spirit of Barnum. Its intellectual 
life and literature were vaguely ideal, unrelated to the ugly 
vigor that spawned new millions, built factories, and threw 
out mile after mile of railroad tracks. Practical America was 
the wine of the Puritans; the aroma was the vague idealism. 
His next volume The Malady of the Ideal (published in 
London in 1913; in the United States not until 1947) was 
a further reaching toward his chief subject the relation of 
the artist to his society. In this volume Brooks sees each 
of his three figures, Amiel, S^nancourt, and Maurice de 
Gu^rin, as living in sickly relation to an ideal order which 
prevented him from taking hold of the vulgar but actual 

Two biographies followed: John Addington Symonds 
(1914) and The World of H. G. Wells (1915). With Sym- 
onds, Brooks is still preoccupied with the type of man he 
saw as committed to life as an artist, frustrated by it and cut 
off from the life of ordinary men. He was apparently not 
interested in Symonds, who is caught as a subject only inso- 
far as he illustrates a thesis. Wells is seen as a writer formed 
by his early life in the home of a lower middle-class shop- 
keeper, and his work is interpreted as the inevitable prod- 
uct of a man attempting to lift himself higher and higher 
in the world through the sheer power of his intellect and 
ambition. The study of Wells took Brooks nearer to the 
method best suited to his talent, criticism-as-biography. 


America's Coming-of-Age (1915), which he later repudi- 
ated, was one of the most influential of his studies. (Its thesis, 
incidentally, is similar to Santayana's in "The Genteel Tra- 
dition in American Philosophy.") He presented for his con- 
temporaries to ponder an America in which intelligence 
and idealism attempted to live as though detached from the 
body of the civilization. America had two types, low-brow 
and high-brow. The former, the man of action, "dedicates 
himself to the service of a private end which knows nothing 
of theory, which is most cynically contemptuous of ideals." 
The latter is typified by the professor of economics who 
dedicates .himself to "the service of a type of economic the- 
ory that bears no relation to the wicked world, leaving all 
the good people who are managing the economic practice 
... to talk nonsense in the wilderness." There could be no 
ripe, no serene knowledge, no genuinely aesthetic aware- 
ness or expression in a society where intellect lived in an 
idealistic dreamworld and practical-minded men developed 
a sense of reality that was narrow and untouched by imagi- 

Having described this dichotomy, Brooks proceeded to 
interpret American literature. Men like Bronson Alcott 
were pathetic, charming, futile. Men like Emerson were 
forced to assume a "sort of idealism whose essence lay in the 
very fact that it could have no connection with the practical 
conduct of life." Men like Poe created a non-human world, 
"cold, blasted, moonstruck, sterile," foreign to actual ex- 
perience. Men like Hawthorne imagined exquisite fables, 
quite unrelated to a "practical Yankee world." The writers 
of belles-lettres lived, he said, in a drowsy idealism, while 
the ruthless industrialists and businessmen, like Rockefeller 
and Morgan, lived in the practical world. 

Later, in 1934, Brooks noted in his earlier writings an 


"oft-recurring mistake, that of attributing to one's country 
the faults of human nature in general." But the Brooks of 
America's Coming-of-Age was right. The American civili- 
zation he had analyzed, though cruder, had a great deal in 
common with Victorian England. Like England, America 
was a victim of industrialization. In both countries men 
were troubled by an idealism that they seemed unable to 
relate to the new scientific-industrial way of life. In Whit- 
man's poetry, Brooks believed, was the way out of this di- 
lemma. In his poetry "action, theory, idealism, business" 
had been "cast into a crucible," from which they "emerged, 
harmonious and molten, in a democratic ideal based upon 
the whole personality." Unfortunately, the American so- 
ciety and its writers after the Civil War had ignored 
Whitman. The new force was pragmatism, a philosophy 
of adjustment, not a philosophy of idealistic and realis- 
tic striving. America, Brooks said, needed more poets like 
Whitman to lead her in "the task of building up a civili- 

America's Coming-of-Age was the catalytic agent in the 
consciousness of the editors and many of the contributors 
to The Seven Arts (1916-17). The editors, James Oppen- 
heim and Waldo Frank, were joined shortly by Brooks. 
The contributors, among others, were: Sherwood Ander- 
son, John Reed, Randolph Bourne, Paul Rosenfeld, H. L. 
Mencken, John Dos Passos, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, 
and Eugene O'Neill. The articles which Brooks contributed 
to the magazine were collected in Letters and Leadership 
(1918). In them he had written about the difficulties of be- 
ing an artist in the United States, had attacked the academic 
critics, had deplored the utilitarian spirit in America, and 
had called for a new and great literature peculiar to the 
soil and hopes of Americans. The magazine was discon- 


tinued because of opposition to its antiwar policy, as well 
as for other reasons. 

Brooks spent the next two years in California writing 
The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920, revised 1933), a volume 
that has furnished a battleground for students of Twain. 
In it, as in The Pilgrimage of Henry James (1925), he at- 
tributes the failure of our writers to the cultural poverty 
of their America. Despite his unfairness to such writers and 
the distortions into which he allowed his thesis to betray 
him, Brooks must be given credit for contributing to the 
critical awakening which has been labeled the period of 
America's Coming-of-Age. But at this point in his career 
Brooks ceased to have a voice that his fellow critics found 
compelling. For a time he merely repeated himself, causing 
Paul Roserifeld in 1924 to observe sadly that Brooks had 
ceased to have anything new to say to his young contem- 
poraries. By the 1930*5, Brooks had completely reversed his 
early position. Works like The Flowering of New England, 
1815-1865 (1936), New England: Indian Summer, 1865- 
1915 (1940), The World of Washington Irving (1944), The 
Times of Melville and Whitman (1947), and The Con- 
fident Years, 1885-1915 (1952) are hardly criticism at all. 
They are genteelly chauvinistic histories in which the Amer- 
ican past is presented in a delicate amber haze. 

Yet Brooks left a firm imprint on American criticism. 
Two of his themes the isolation of the American artist and 
the need for discovering a "usable past" 2 have had a con- 
siderable history. Harold Stearns's America and the Young 
Intellectual (192 1) treated the theme of the alienated Amer- 
ican artist. Matthew Josephson's Portrait of the Artist as 
American (1930), more nearly employing the tone Brooks 
himself would employ, developed it further: 

2 "On Creating a Usable Past," The Dial, LXIV (1918). 


There is the obscure tragedy of Melville, a genius who passed 
half his life in silence as a clerk in the customs office of New 
York. Doomed, uncomprehending, hating the age, he wandered 
in the anonymous crowd, resigned to his disappearance from 
the world; he is a sphinx-like figure, living for thirty years in 
a tomb. And there are all the other ill-starred careers: James 
Whistler dies in London; Lafcadio Hearn in Japan; Stephen 
Crane meets death in Germany, early in life; Ambrose Bierce, 
as an old man, is killed by guerrillas in Mexico; Henry James 
seeks to obliterate his origin in a long London life and becomes 
a British citizen in the days of the World War; Henry Adams, 
in despair of all else, haunts the Gothic cathedrals of France, 
worshiping the beauty and the logic of medieval art. The record 
is long and convincing. ... 

Alfred Kazin echoes this passage in the "American Fin 
de Sicle" chapter in On Native Grounds (1942). The 
theme, whether in Brooks's tone or not, is met in various 
forms throughout contemporary criticism, as in Delmore 
Schwartz's "The Isolation of Modern Poetry," 3 R. P. Black- 
mur's "The American Literary Expatriate," 4 or Karl Sha- 
piro's Essay on Rime (1945). 

Both of Brooks's themes were the concern of Constance 
Rourke. "The American" from American Humor (1931) 
modified the thesis that Henry James was a failure be- 
cause of America's cultural poverty. She found him a pri- 
mary writer of magnificent achievement. The failure was 
in America's inability to produce a sequence of writers 
capable of developing what James had begun. The other 
side of her work, an attempt to discover a "usable past,'* 
was largely unfinished at her death, but she had written a 
number of books preliminary to her proposed history of 

3 Kenyan Review, III (Summer 1945), 209-20. 

4 Foreign Influences in American Life (Princeton, N. J., Princeton Univ. 
Press, 1944), pp. 126-45. 


American culture. In Charles Sheeler (1938), for example, 
she said that the native American tradition lies in form not 
in subject matter. As stated by Stanley Edgar Hyman in his 
chapter on her contribution to criticism in The Armed 
Vision (1948), her thesis is that the tradition lies in "the ab- 
straction of a Jonathan Edwards sermon, a Navaho blanket, 
a John Henry feat, and a Vermont hooked rug; and that 
it is Marin who is painting in it, not Norman Rockwell." 
Her posthumous volume The Roots of American Culture 
(1942), for which Brooks wrote the Introduction, is a col- 
lection of essays in which Miss Rourke tried to analyze 
the charatter of popular and folk patterns in American arts, 
with the expectation apparently of relating them eventu- 
ally to higher and more self-conscious levels of art. 5 

Lewis Mumford, perhaps the best of the critics who fol- 
lowed leads suggested by Brooks, has been only incidentally 
concerned with literature. His real subject is the culture 
of America, especially the influences of technology on urban 
life. The titles of some of his books suggest the nature of 
his interests: The Story of Utopias (1922), Sticks and Stones 
(1924), The Golden Day (1926), Herman Melville (1929), 
The Brown Decades (1931), and The Condition of Man 
(1944). The essentials of Mumford's thesis are these: 

Our mechanical and metropolitan civilization, with all its gen- 
uine advances, has let certain human elements drop out of its 
scheme; and until we recover these elements our civilization will 
be at loose ends, and our architecture will unerringly express 
the situation. Home, meeting place, and factory, polity, culture, 
and art have still to be united and brought together, and this 
task is one of the fundamental tasks of our civilization. 

5 Discussions of a "usable past" are also to be found in "The Situation 
in American Writing," Partisan Review, Vol. VI (Summer 1939), a sym- 
posium to which a considerable number of writers contributed. 


In the American past Mumford found certain guides. In 
the golden day of New England the village expressed the 
common religious, social, and political life. Into the houses, 
for example, there went careful workmanship, and the great 
elm trees furnished shade and modified the simplicity of 
the architecture. Whitman and Melville had furnished pro- 
phetic visions, the one of "cosmic faith," the other of "cos- 
mic defiance." Much of Herman Melville is devoted to 
developing Brooks's thesis that American artists have been 
injured or defeated by our business civilization. Mumford 
has helped students of American culture see the interrela- 
tionships between a country's social life and its art. 

Waldo Frank in Our America (1919) continued Brooks's 
attack on materialism. With the puritan had begun the de- 
nial of the body and the intellectualizing of our energies. 
With the pioneer had begun our demand for material suc- 
cess at the expense of the whole man. The most interesting 
chapter in the book, "The Puritan Says 'Yea,' " contains 
little studies of Robert Frost, Amy Lowell, and Henry 
Adams in relation to the spirit of New England, a spirit 
which was being dissipated and was losing its mastery over 
the rest of the country. Salvos (1924) is composed of scat- 
tered reviews and informal essays, but the Introduction, 
"For a Declaration of War," seems to be the beginning of 
Frank's somewhat grandiose role as cultural historian and 
prophet. The Re-Discovery of America (1929) continues the 
search for wholeness. (Incidentally, the Appendix gives a 
thumbnail account of Frank's contemporaries in the "little 
magazine" movement.) In the American Jungle (1937) de- 
velops the thesis that the rationalist, product of a scientific- 
minded philosophy, denies the mind its right to poetic and 
religious expression. Frank's language, somewhat maunder- 
ing even in his first books, is often depressingly vague and 


misty. And the strictly literary considerations in his criti- 
cism, early and late, are infrequent. The lack of a delimited 
subject matter, an unwillingness or inability to be precise, 
has seriously hampered Frank as a critic. 6 Yet, like Bourne, 
Brooks, and Mumford he was instrumental in making Amer- 
ica self-conscious about what it was, what it had been, and 
what it was likely to become. 

An instructive example of the influence of these critics 
is found in the career of Stuart Pratt Sherman, whom they 
helped to convert from the ranks of the New Humanists. 
"Read Stuart P. Sherman/' Bourne once wrote, "on con- 
temporary literature and see with what a hurt panic a young 
gentleman, perhaps the last brave offshoot of the genteel 
tradition, regards these bold modern writers." Sherman, a 
student of Babbitt's, had published On Contemporary Lit- 
erature in 1917. He was also a fairly eminent Arnoldian, 
having published Matthew Arnold: How to Know Him. 
Supported on one side by Arnold and on the other by Bab- 
bitt, Sherman had given battle against Philistia and Natu- 
ralism. From both men he took a strong sense of moral 
mission. His text for his book on the moderns was: "The 
great revolutionary task of the nineteenth century thinkers 
was to put man into nature. The great task of twentieth 
century thinkers is to get him out again." Thus Dreiser was 
anathema, "the vulgarest voice yet heard in American lit- 
erature," and with him, though lesser culprits, were Wells, 
George Moore, and John Millington Synge. Mark Twain 
was also dismissed as a vulgarian because he does not help 
us to realize "our best selves." 

The next step in Sherman's development was toward an 

6 An important exception to this is Frank's essay on Winesburg, Ohio in 
the September-October 1941 issue of Story, a subject to which he could bring 
a sympathy impossible to critics who find Anderson's lack of cogency an al- 
most insuperable barrier to acceptance or admiration. 


extremely narrow nationalism. For Americans (1922) he 
examined ten writers for the purpose of encouraging "read- 
ers to keep open the channel of their national traditions 
and to scrutinize contemporary literature in the light of 
their national past." The chief tradition which Sherman 
found was twofold: Puritanism and Anglo-Saxondom. To 
Sherman the puritan was not the bluenose creature on 
whose head Mencken was raising bloody welts, he was "an 
iconoclast, an image breaker." Puritanism, said Sherman, 
"is a formative spirit, an urgent and exploring and creative 

There was more than a hint of a new Know-Nothing 
movement in Sherman's comment that those critics with 
names out of the melting pot who praise the modern Scan- 
dinavian, German, or Russian writers could hardly "be ex- 
pected to hear any profound murmurings of ancestral voices 
or to experience any mysterious inflowing in meditating on 
the names of Mark Twain, Whitman, Thoreau, Lincoln, 
Emerson, Franklin and Bradford." Ernest Boyd, writing 
in The Nation, labeled Sherman's view "Ku Klux Kriti- 

In The Genius of America (1923), Sherman attempted 
to answer Spingarn's principle that literary criticism is not 
concerned with moral truth or democracy. Sherman says 
he thinks he understands the point Spingarn is making in 
a supersubtle Italian fashion, but every American school- 
boy would, if he could understand it, feel it to be false to 
the history of beauty in America. He would know that 
beauty "vitalizes and gives permanency to the national 
ideals." From this point on, Arnold and Babbitt were wan- 
ing influences. Sherman was becoming a Rotarian. Points 
of View (1924) is a discovery of American "ideals": Cleanli- 
ness, Health, Swift Mobility, Publicity, and Athletics. Sher- 


man was also beginning to see virtues in novelists like 
Dreiser, Ben Hecht, and Lewis, but he could wish they had 
a little more affection for things American. My Dear Cor- 
nelia (1924) concludes that the younger generation, except 
for its ignoring of the Eighteenth Amendment, is worthy 
of its forebears. In the same year Sherman assumed the lit- 
erary editorship of the Herald Tribune. Critical Woodcuts 
(1926) is filled with appreciations of the new men from 
Oscar Wilde to Wells. He had dropped his allegiances to 
the humanists. Perhaps it is not unfair to say that Sherman 
did not grow so much as he changed, but his career, pre- 
maturely ended in 1926, has considerable historical sig- 

The affirmation of the new America was also carried on 
in the liberal magazines, The Nation, The New Republic, 
and The Freeman. Saturday Review of Literature, under 
Canby, also took on a liberal tone. Behind them, of course, 
were The Masses of Dell and Eastman, and Reedy's Mir- 
ror. Under Carl Van Doren's editorship (1919-22) the liter- 
ary criticism of The Nation, especially, took on vigor and 
forthrightness, even though Van Doren, as Lewisohn later 
complained, was unwilling to commit himself to a definite 
critical position. It is true that in reading most of the criti- 
cism published in The Nation and in the other magazines 
as well one feels that critical intelligence and sensibility 
were frequently dissipated for lack of a method, for lack 
of a complex knowledge of the ways in which life gets into 
literature. Van Doren later summed up the critical position 
of most of his associates in this statement: "We were held 
together by a shared passion for literature as an art so in- 


terwoven with life that neither could be understood with- 
out the other. This passion set the tone of criticism in the 
new Nation and has marked it ever since." It is true, ob- 
viously, that art and life interpenetrate, but art is life se- 
lected and usually distorted, refracted, not flatly mirrored. 
The way in which literature differs from life is also im- 

One of the most astute of the liberal critics was Ludwig 
Lewisohn, drama critic for The Nation. He had studied 
the whole range of criticism and he had imagination, sensi- 
tivity, and fervor. He wrote valuable studies of modern 
German literature, of French poetry and experiments in 
European drama, and he edited A Modern Book of Criti- 
cism (1919), which included American, English, French, 
and German critics. As drama critic for The Nation he 
held up the ideal of the "eternal poet struggling with the 
mysteries of the earth," and he derided playwrights and 
directors who knew only the theater. His fervent demands 
for individual liberty and his image of the artist as one 
struggling against the bonds of society found receptive audi- 
ences, but it also became clear that Lewisohn was not deeply 
concerned in examining literature in terms of its own his- 
torical, social, or philosophical contexts. His German-Jew- 
ish ancestry and an unhappy marriage had, or he felt they 
had, made him the victim of American prejudices and re- 
pressive laws. He frequently allowed his sufferings to be 
magnified until the American society tended to seem merely 
a part of his autobiography. Had he been less driven by 
a need to personalize criticism in this fashion, Lewisohn 
might have become one of our best critics. Even so, he 
played a significant role among the liberal critics associated 
with The Nation. 

Mark Van Doren and Joseph Wood Krutch were also 


capable of writing astute criticism. Van Doren's criticism 
at its best, as in John Dry den (1920) or Shakespeare (1939), 
yields great profit on close reading. There appears to be 
on his part, however, a determined avoidance of technical 
terms or even generalizations which one might apply in 
other contexts. In this fact there may be a clue to Van 
Doren's failure to become a more influential critic. T. S. 
Eliot's "Dryden," a review of Van Doren's book, does pro- 
vide such generalizations, as, for instance, that Milton is 
"our greatest master of the artificial style," Dryden of the 
"natural," and Dryden's merit consists in his "ability to 
make the 'small into the great, the prosaic into the poetic, 
the trivial into the magnificent." One can read Van Doren's 
study for the well-chosen extracts, the fine explications, the 
appreciations. Similiarly with his excellent study of the 
plays of Shakespeare. Perhaps the point is simply that highly 
memorable criticism is read not only for the illumination 
it brings to a given work but for the general principles it 

Such comments are less applicable to Krutch because he 
is more given to generalizations, as in his milieu study 
Comedy and Conscience After the Restoration (1924) and 
The Modern Temper (1929), as well as in his Samuel John- 
son (1944) and Henry David Thoreau (1949). Krutch's re- 
views for The Nation of books as well as plays are almost 
invariably shrewd and to the point. The book for which he 
is best known, The Modern Temper, is not his best, but it 
will long be an important document. 

The Modern Temper was an expression, somewhat simi- 
lar to Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship," of a de- 
sire to see the world objectively, honestly, without romantic 
illusions. It overlooked the fact that any view of the world 
will arouse feelings appropriate to it. Krutch's view, which 


he later abandoned, aroused a sentimental pessimism. It was 
a view derived from a reductive naturalism, a form of scien- 
tism that did not allow subjective elements, that is, such 
products of the imagination as love or nobility, a place in 
the true nature of things. In brief, according to this doc- 
trine, because the universe is not anthropocentric, man is 
nothing. One chapter, "Love the Life and Death of a 
Value," demonstrates that human love has no divine sanc- 
tion; it is a product of the imagination therefore it is not 
true, and modern man must believe it a delusion exacted 
by his senses. "The Tragic Fallacy," another of Krutch's 
much-discussed chapters, acknowledges that tragedy need 
not depend upon a belief in God but does depend on a 
belief in man. However, tragedy is not possible for us be- 
cause we are incapable of conceiving man as noble. Even 
though Krutch probably went further in this book than 
many of his fellow liberals would have gone, his attitudes 
in general were those of the liberal critics of the twenties. 
He was one of the few willing to pursue the implications 
in these attitudes and relate them to literature. 

More willing to take their liberal modernism for granted 
were the abler of the journalist-critics like Francis Hackett, 
literary editor for The New Republic, and Burton Rascoe, 
editor of the Herald Tribune's "Books." They encouraged 
the new writers and they were, for the most part, eminently 
sensible. But once they had helped create a liberal audience, 
much of their criticism, except as it furnished information 
for the uninformed, had little further use. 7 

The critics associated with the movement called Amer- 

7 In his autobiography, Carl Van Doren tells how he encouraged Ray- 
mond Weaver to write the first life of Melville. "In 1920 I had roused ques- 
tions by writing that nobody knew American literature who did not know 
Melville. In 1940, revising the book in which this statement had appeared, I 
dropped it as now too obvious." 


ica's Coming-of-Age served their period by attacking the 
genteel tradition, by insisting that literature be allowed to 
tell the truth about the everyday world. They helped to 
create an open-minded audience. Much of their criticism, 
however, which was more concerned with attitudes than 
with techniques, was assimilated and then forgotten. With 
a few notable exceptions, like Beach and Krutch, many of 
these critics turned to other subjects, to politics, to social 
studies, to history. As a group, the critics associated with 
the movement tended to equate life and reality with litera- 
ture and to be singularly indifferent to the way in which 
life and reality got into literature. 


URING the postwar years reductive nat- 
uralism had made debunking biographies, drab fiction, and 
behaviorist drama seem inevitable. Irving Babbitt, Paul 
Elmer More, and their followers were among those who 
most firmly resisted the tenets of reductive naturalism and 
the kinds of literature to which it gave rise. 1 The New 
Humanists were looked upon variously as defenders of the 

1 More had edited The Independent and The Nation before retiring to 
Princeton in 1914. Between 1904 and 1933 he published fourteen volumes 
of his Shelburne Essays, devoted to short essays as well as to full-length 
studies of single writers, and Nietzsche (1912), Platonism (1917), The Reli- 
gion of Plato (1921), Hellenistic Philosophies (1923), The Christ of the New 
Testament (1924), Christ the Word (1927), and The Catholic Faith (1931). 
Babbitt taught at Harvard from 1894 and published Literature and the 
American College (1908), The New Laokoon (1910), The Masters of Modern 
French Criticism (1912), Rousseau and Romanticism (1919), Democracy and 
Leadership (1924), French Literature (1928), and On Being Creative and 
Other Essays (1932). 


genteel tradition, as reactionaries, as enemies of democracy, 
or as defenders of traditional values, upholders of the moral 
order, and so forth. 

The war waged by and against the New Humanists, with 
its lulls, its forays, and the final tremendous battle in 1929- 
30, involved almost every critic and scholar. One of the first 
attacks from the left, as early as 1910, came from Marion 
Reedy in Reedy' s Mirror. He found The New Laokoon the 
most important book since the turn of the century, but he 
prophesied that Babbitt's promised book on Rousseau, de- 
spite the abilities of the "brilliant aristocrat," would fail. 
"The revolt will go on. Anarchism is a great constructive 
force." H. L. Mencken, on his side, carried on an attack that 
was mostly slapstick against Babbitt and More. In revising 
The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Mencken found 
More's study of Nietzsche (one of the essays in The Drift 
of Romanticism [1913]) "very ingenious." Later Mencken 
lumped, and attacked as a part of his war on respectability, 
all the New Humanists with "the prim virgins, male and 
female, of the Dial, the Nation, the New York Times," and 
with the "honorary pall-bearers of letters bogus Oxford 
dons, jitney Matthew Arnolds," and so on. Randolph 
Bourne and Van Wyck Brooks were in greater earnest. They 
saw in the New Humanists not only the enemies of the new 
literature but the archenemies of socialism. 

Bourne, in 1912, found More's study of Nietzsche aca- 
demic and without the requisite fervor. Several years later, 
with the publication of More's Aristocracy and Justice 
(1915), the battle lines were drawn. Bourne was one of the 
young generals in the assault on tradition in education, 
morality, economics, government, and literature. More had 
raised the flag of the traditionalists and the reactionaries. 
Bourne, with his fervent humanitarianism and individual- 


ism, saw perversity and cruelty in More's statements that 
those in government should never "relax the rigour of law" 
out of "pity for the degree of injustice inherent in earthly 
life/' nor cease to believe that "in the light of the larger 
good of society" the "rights of property are more important 
than the right to life." Babbitt, as early as Literature and 
the American College, was equally adamant in his opposi- 
tion to the humanitarians. Bourne saw in the older critics 
and in their younger followers like Stuart P. Sherman a 
petulant and, ultimately, a vain protesting against the new 
values. Brooks in Letters and Leadership (1918) held that 
More could not feel "human values finely because to have 
done so would have been to upset his whole faith in a so- 
ciety based not upon the creative but upon the acquisitive 
instincts of men. . . ." 

During most of the igso's there were few serious attacks 
on the New Humanists. The young men seemed to have 
won the war, and the occasional gibes must have seemed 
gratuitous. Most of the literary journals were avowedly lib- 
eral. Lewis Mumford found Democracy and Leadership 
"lucid and temperate" and Babbitt "a valuable critic of de- 
mocracy." Writing in November 1927 in the Herald Trib- 
une he said it was unfortunate that Babbitt and More had 
been attacked indiscriminately in the all-out war against 
gentility. Mumford deplored the Tory prejudices of both 
men, but he added that in reading More at this time he dis- 
covered "a man of extraordinary tact and good judgement 
in every matter pertaining to literature," and that after 
reading Babbitt he could admit that "had the weaker mem- 
bers of our generation known him better they might not 
perhaps have made so many knock-kneed compromises." 

The following year, however, activities were renewed all 
along the front when Howard Mumford Jones in The New 


Republic replied to a series of articles on humanism in The 
Forum, Mary Colum reviewed Gorham Munson's Desti- 
nations: A Canvass of American Literature Since 1900, and 
Horace Kallen reviewed Norman Foerster's American Criti- 
cism for the Saturday Review of Literature. Mr. Jones and 
Mrs. Colum were concerned with berating Babbitt's Rous- 
seau and Romanticism and Mr. Kallen with dismissing 
Foerster's book and humanism as "the last gasp of secular- 
ized Calvinism" and "the frayed latter end of the genteel 
tradition." During 1929 the fighting continued. Robert 
Shafer replied to an article by Allen Tate entitled "The 
Fallacy of Humanism," and their debate was carried fur- 
ther in The Bookman, the editor of which, Seward Collins, 
was championing the New Humanists. The book editors 
and reviewers, Henry Hazlitt, Harry Hansen, Henry Seidel 
Canby, Edmund Wilson, William S. Knickerbocker, and 
others got into the fray. Each side had another, though 
hardly a final, word to say when Foerster published the 
symposium Humanism and America (1930), with fifteen 
articles, and in reply Hartley Gratton edited A Critique 
of Humanism (1930), with thirteen articles. 

Democracy, romanticism, humanitarianism, restraint in 
discussing sex, respect for traditional beliefs and attitudes, 
and so on, were hotly debated by the New Humanists and 
their various opponents, but the underlying and basic issue 
was naturalism, in its rationalistic-utilitarian line on the 
one side and its sentimental-romantic line on the other. 
Norman Foerster said the New Humanists held that "a 
complete culture necessitates a sharp contrast between what 
Emerson termed the law for man and the law for thing, the 
human realm of value and quality and the purely quantita- 
tive realm of nature." The New Humanists held that the 
law for man is clearly evident, not merely in the durable 


parts of the Greek and Christian tradition, but in the tra- 
ditions of India and China as well. 

In the first of his Shelburne Essays, More had insisted that 
the critical faculty should serve the "law of measure/' The 
duty of the critic is to "transform and interpret and mold 
the sum of experience from man to man and generation to 
generation/' Twenty-four years later in The Demon of the 
Absolute he said that men who are morally and intellectu- 
ally indolent cannot perceive that the voice of the higher 
discipline is available through tradition. In their conceit 
the indolent fall into an "absolute relativism" in moral as 
well as critical values. "That is the present guise of the 
Demon as he stalks abroad, instilling his venom into the 
innocent critics of the press." 

Babbitt also insisted on this distinction of the lower life 
which man shares with nature and the higher which man 
has alone, whether merely as a human or as a supernatu- 
ral being. The higher faculties of man are reason, moral 
will, and moral imagination (as opposed to "recreative" and 
"idyllic imagination"). These higher faculties impose an 
"inner check" which, critical and moral at once, prevents 
self-indulgence, sentimental humanitarian acts, and vaga- 
ries of romantic expression and forms. Babbitt furnished 
the clearest exposition of his position in "Humanism: An 
Essay at Definition" (1930). 

In it he stated that the "law of measure" is the center, 
historically and psychologically, in all humanistic move- 
ments. Modernism is a move away from the law of measure, 
but there always have been humanists, men who have recog- 
nized intuitively or believed in a "universal norm," "laws 
unwritten in the heavens," or believed that human nature 
demands a "sense of order and decorum and measure in 
deeds and words." The scientific-utilitarian side of natu- 


ralism (typified by Bacon) offends against balance and de- 
corum by glorying in the specialist who sacrifices a rounded 
development in order to contribute his bit to progress and 
by pursuing "material instead of spiritual 'comfort/ " The 
romantic-sentimental side of naturalism (typified by Rous- 
seau) offends against balance and decorum by promoting 
"free temperamental expansion" and "the humanitarian 
hope for brotherhood among men based on emotional over- 
flow." The humanists work against excesses of individ- 
ualism and "intellectual anarchy" by restraining their ap- 

As Ndrman Foerster would later point out, the excite- 
ment over the New Humanism was lessened by the great 
depression and a new interest in regional writing. Even 
so, the influence of humanism was considerable, largely be- 
cause it caused critics to question their basic assumptions. 


One would have thought, George Santayana said, inves- 
tigating the implications in the position of the New Hu- 
manists in The Genteel Tradition at Bay, that the genteel 
tradition had all but disappeared, was little more than a 
remembered atmosphere. But no, the spirit that once moti- 
vated it is not dead. Furthermore, its proponents protest 
"that it is not genteel or antiquated at all, but orthodox 
and immortal. Its principles, it declares, are classical, and 
its true name is Humanism." Santayana attempted to dem- 
onstrate that the new movement was really a protest against 
the consequences of the older humanism. Renaissance hu- 
manists, he said, were opposed to austerity, were willing to 
wink at amiable vices, and through a spirit of tolerance 


hoped to neutralize the rigors of conflicting dogmas. Eventu- 
ally, a tolerant humanist was able to give a place in his 
sympathies to religions of the East, to primitive art, to the 
virtues of societies quite foreign to his own. "Thus human- 
ism ended at last in a pensive agnosticism and a charmed 
culture, as in the person of Matthew Arnold." The New 
Humanists felt the lameness in this conclusion, and in one 
way Santayana agreed with them. "If the humanist could 
really live up to his ancient maxim, humani nil a me 
alienum puto, he would sink into moral anarchy and artis- 
tic impotence the very thing from which our liberal, ro- 
mantic world is so greatly suffering." Because an orderly 
existence demands insistence on certain patterns, one can- 
not accept everything that is new or strange. By and large, 
the humanist movement has emancipated the passions, at- 
tempted to turn nature to practical purposes to surrender 
the spirit to the flesh. 

We are the heirs of what Santayana calls the three R's of 
the Renaissance: Reformation, Revolution, and Romance. 
The Reformation has appealed to lay interests: many a 
writer has demonstrated the superiority of Protestantism 
by pointing to its social achievements, more commerce, sci- 
entific advancement, neater towns, and so forth. "I think 
we might say of Protestantism something like what Goethe 
said of Hamlet. Nature had carelessly dropped an acorn 
into the ancient vase of religion, and the young oak, grow- 
ing within, shattered the precious vessel." Santayana, of 
course, is denying that Protestantism is half so concerned 
with spiritual as with material well-being. Revolution has 
increased individual liberty, elevated the average man, and 
given him more comfort. Romance is unlike Reformation 
and Revolution in that it is not for the most part in rebel- 
lion. Whatever may be the points in history where it mani- 


fests itself clearly, its origins may simply be human. "It 
involves a certain sense of homelessness in a chaotic world, 
and at the same time a sense of meaning and beauty there." 
Santayana finds a humbleness, a sense of human imperfec- 
tions, a kind of prerequisite to enlightened action in the 
spirit of Romance. As the heir of these three R's, modern 
man has come to believe that his physical life is not a life 
of sin. 

One of the New Humanists said: "The accepted vision 
of a good life is to make a lot of money by fair means; to 
spend it generously; to be friendly; to move fast; to die 
with one's boots on." Santayana was willing to accept this 
sturdy ideal as the natural outgrowth of industrialism in 
America. (And he could add, with a touch of malice, that in 
the margins of American life there is room for the cultiva- 
tion of an intellectual life, that democracy loves splendidly 
endowed libraries and museums, and that "the adaptable 
spirit of Protestantism may be relied upon to lend a pious 
and philosophical sanction to any instinct that may deeply 
move the national mind.") The protests of the New Hu- 
manists are not the protests which the Renaissance human- 
ists would have made. The New Humanists were pointing 
not at a humanism but at a theocracy: 

Theocracy is what all the enemies of the three R's . . . must 
endeavour to restore, if they understand their own position. 
Wealth, learning, sport and beneficence, even on a grand scale, 
must leave them cold, or positively alarm them, if these fine 
things are not tightly controlled and meted out according to 
some revealed absolute standard. . . . Let us have honest bold 
dogmas supported by definite arguments: let us re-establish our 
moral sentiments on foundations more solid than tradition or 
gentility. ... If our edifice is to be safe, we must lay the founda- 
tions in eternity. 


The quarrel between the modernists or liberals and the 
New Humanists was a major battle to decide whether natu- 
ralism was to be intellectually dominant, but it was not 
quite the same as the battle waged between Bishop Wilber- 
force and Huxley. Babbitt denied that humanism was of 
value only in subordination to orthodox Christianity. In 
"Humanism: An Essay at Definition" he insisted that a "sur- 
vey of the past" does not confirm the view that humanism 
is parasitical. The two most notable manifestations of the 
humanistic spirit that the world has seen, that in ancient 
Greece and that in Confucian China, did not have the sup- 
port of Christianity or any other form of revealed "religion. 
Babbitt placed himself "unhesitatingly on the side of the 
supernaturalists," but his "revealed religion" included the 
religion of Sophocles, Confucius, and Christ. Most Chris- 
tians would see Babbitt's supernaturalism as something 
other than Christianity. 


It is important, as Santayana said, to know from what 
basic laws, dogmas, or assumptions Babbitt draws his strong 
convictions. Insofar as one can tell from his own statements 
he was not an orthodox Christian. Yet he did not hesitate 
to speak with the assurance of a presbyter. In Babbitt's 
mind, for example, renunciation had as its corollary an in- 
dividualism that was contemptuous of any humanitarian 
gestures or movements. It may be true, as Babbitt held, that 
"the will to power" is usually much stronger than "the will 
to service." But it would seem to follow that an act of re- 
nunciation would frequently be an act of charity. His dis- 
like of romantics and liberals, who as humanitarians like to 
insist on the myth of natural goodness, hardly seems reason 


enough for the constant ridicule of humanitarian acts. Sym- 
pathy and kindness played little part in Babbitt's criticism, 
and he apparently enjoyed his own belligerent and raucous 
manner in controversy. 

More, on the other hand, seems to have had the agonized 
conscience of the early Calvinist. His startlingly reaction- 
ary statements seem, if taken by themselves, cruel in a way 
that Babbitt's are not, especially because More was a more 
sensitive critic than Babbitt. But More was writing under 
the aegis of an angry God. Responsibility was the terrible 
burden of the individual, not of society. To blame society 
as a whole for evil laws, he wrote in Aristocracy and Tradi- 
tion (1917), was to weaken "the responsibility of the in- 
dividual soul to its maker and judge." The forces of order 
had to be upheld. If the romantics made a myth of natural 
goodness, then More may be said to have served the older 
myth of man as naturally depraved. In his Platonism he 
could make Plato a Presbyterian: 

To the true Platonist the divine spirit, though it may be called, 
and is, the hidden source of beauty and order and joy, yet al- 
ways, when it speaks directly in the human breast, makes itself 
heard as an inhibition; like the Guide of Socrates, it never in 
its own person commands to do, but only to refrain. Whereas to 
the pseudo-Platonist it appears as a positive inspiration, saying 
yes to his desires and emotions. 

Most readers probably feel that the Dialogues are attempts 
to isolate, modify, and explain and then either to justify 
or condemn certain of our desires or designs, but More finds 
that each ends with a "Thou shalt notl" In More, despite 
his delicacy and learning, there is a latter-day Calvinism, a 
genteel masochism. 

Norman Foerster's interpretation of the humanist posi- 


tion in respect to supernaturalism is found in his American 
Criticism (1928): 

This centre to which humanism refers everything, this centrip- 
etal energy which counteracts the multifarious centrifugal im- 
pulses, this magnetic will which draws the flux of our sensations 
toward it while itself remaining at rest, is the reality which gives 
rise to religion. Pure humanism is content to describe it thus in 
physical terms, as an observed fact of experience; it hesitates to 
pass beyond its experimental knowledge to the dogmatic affir- 
mations of any of the great religions. 

T. S. Eliot, in "Second Thoughts on Humanism," pub- 
lished in Hound and Horn, objected to this passage, saying 
it typified the ambiguous attitude of the humanists toward 
religion, identifying themselves with it at one moment and 
dissociating themselves the next. Their attacks against the 
forms of naturalism would seem to make it clear that the 
humanists do not look upon themselves as naturalists. Yet 
on the other hand they (Babbitt and Foerster, at least) would 
not be thought supernaturalists. According to believers in 
the supernatural, morals come from God and are justified 
thereby. According to the naturalists they come from biol- 
ogy, social adjustment, and so forth. There is, as Eliot puts 
it, no way out of the dilemma: "you must be either a natu- 
ralist or a supernaturalist." Foerster said, "the essential re- 
ality of experience is ethical." He was saying, in effect, that 
an ethical reality lives in a hiatus between the natural and 
the supernatural. But, as Eliot objected, if the word "super- 
natural" is suppressed, the "dualism of man and nature 
collapses at once." The point is crucial. The term "human" 
long depended on connotations derived from supernatural- 
ism. If one is not a supernaturalist he must reconcile him- 
self to giving up, at least eventually, these associations and 


accepting those that arise from considering man as natural. 
This the humanists seemed unwilling to do. 

Foerster has been an apologist for the New Humanism 
rather than a literary critic. He called American Criticism 
"a work of historical-critical exegesis in the field of scholar- 
ship." In The American Scholar (1929) he said his fellow 
scholars had "fallen victims to the mechanistic tendencies 
of the age; and in their pseudo-scientific wanderings into 
the fields of literary history, general history, and psychol- 
ogy, have lost nearly all perspective and ability to evaluate 
the writings either of their own age or of the past." In To- 
wards Standards; A Study of the Present Critical Movement 
in American Letters (1930) he had surveyed impressionist 
criticism, finding, of course, that to emphasize the unique- 
ness of a work at the expense of traditional values is to dis- 
pense with standards. He had surveyed, too, journalistic 
criticism like that of Henry Seidel Canby, finding it based 
on "historical relativity or indifferentism"; the Bourne- 
Brooks-Mumford school which argued the need for a hu- 
manistic reconstruction but offered no tangible method for 
it; and, lastly, the humanists who would find in tradition 
the values that are permanent in human existence and con- 
sonant with a "richly diversified, a finely shaped, and an 
exalted life." In 1941, Foerster contributed "The Esthetic 
Judgement and the Ethical Judgement" to The Intent of 
the Critic. Here he acknowledges that the aesthetic critics 
may be right in saying that delight is the primary criterion 
in art, but the humanist will "add at once that the delight 
comes from the wisdom expressed as well as from the ex- 
pression of wisdom." But there appears to be a contradiction 
in his adding that "Tintern Abbey" is great aesthetically 
but is ethically unsound. Like Babbitt and More, Foerster 
has fought courageously against a self-indulgent material- 


ism; his interests have been ethical first and aesthetic only 


Foerster, in American Critical Essays and elsewhere, lists 
Prosser Hall Frye as a humanist who arrived at his position 
largely independently. A reading of Literary Reviews and 
Criticism (1908), Romance and Tragedy (1922), and Vi- 
sions and Chimeras (1929) makes perfectly clear that he 
and Babbitt especially had much in common. Frye speaks 
of life and literature being "vindicated against naturalism/' 
of Zola lacking "moral sense," and of "these modern scien- 
tific self-complacent humanitarianisms." Frye's manner is 
usually academic, disinterested, and assured, but when he 
undertakes to examine the characteristics of romantic lit- 
erature he can rise to satiric barbs worthy of Babbitt. Ger- 
man romanticism is a work of "degeneration, deformation, 
and disease," and "it bears on its front the stigmata of its 
infirmitiesabsurdity, folly, inanity, and confusion." When 
Frye was not giving rein to his prejudices, he could write 
with acuteness, moderation, and clarity. "The Idea of Greek 
Tragedy," in Romance and Tragedy, furnishes an excel- 
lent account of the general differences between Elizabethan 
and Greek tragedy and the development from Aeschylus to 

Yvor Winters, commonly identified with the new criti- 
cism, also has strong affinities with Babbitt, whose influ- 
ence he has acknowledged. Among his later contemporaries, 
only F. R. Leavis, the British critic, writes with the same 
forthrightness about moral issues in literature. Primitivism 
and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry 
(1937), Winters's first book, is an attempt to relate the mo- 


tive behind a poem to the feelings aroused by connotation, 
sound, and rhythms. (By "primitive," Winters means writ- 
ers who "utilize all the means necessary to the most vigorous 
form, but whose range of material is limited," and by "de- 
cadent," he means writers who "display a fine sensitivity to 
language and who may have a very wide range" but whose 
work is weakened by a "vice of feeling.") The exact center 
of the book is not clear, but many of the incidental analyses 
and statements of principle are explicitly made and valu- 
able. Winters's essential position is most clearly stated in 
The Anatomy of Nonsense (1943): 

According to my view, the artistic process is one of moral 
evaluation of human experience, by means of a technique which 
renders possible an evaluation more precise than any other. The 
poet tries to understand his experience in rational terms, to 
state his understanding, and simultaneously to state, by means 
of the feelings which we attach to words, the kind and degree 
of emotion that should properly be motivated by this under- 
standing. The artistic result differs from the crude experience 
mainly in its refinement of judgement: the difference in really 
good art is enormous, but the difference is of degree rather than 

Much of Winters's theory, which is expressed and ex- 
patiated upon in an authoritative manner, is fallacious. 
Obviously, there is something to his thesis that the tone 
engendered by the connotations, sound, and rhythms evalu- 
ates or is appropriate to the motive of the poem. But motive 
does not exist as some Platonic essence, or even as a clear-cut 
little body of ideas, prior to and separate from its concrete 
embodiment in a poem; in a very real sense, motive does 
not exist until the poem is at least partially written, and 
much of what the poet says is accidental and unwitting on 
his part. Winters's thesis, to change the figure, suggests a 


skeletonized idea, apparently highly complex to begin with, 
on which the poet is able to grow muscle, tissue, flesh, and 
appropriate contours. Winters also assumes a poem that is 
static, constant in its meanings and rhythms, as though the 
poem in the course of time did not undergo developments 
in connotations and meanings of words and in the stresses 
with which they are pronounced. Winters's scansions, fre- 
quently done with great precision, do not allow for the pos- 
sibility of variant readings. Another objection to Winters's 
system is that it assumes capacity to intellectualize our ex- 
perience of color, sound, rhythm, weight, texture, size, and 
so forth that is far beyond human capacity or inclination. 
Winters, as one might expect, tends to rate most highly 
the poets who employ an abstract diction, whose work least 
resists explicit commentary and paraphrase. He also likes 
writers restrained in their enthusiasm, strong-minded, and 
certain about their moral principles. The source of Win- 
ters's assurance about moral issues is never made clear. He 
says he is not a Christian. Some of Winters's judgments are 
notorious that Edith Wharton is greatly superior to James, 
that T. Sturge Moore has written "more great poetry than 
any of his contemporaries," that Elizabeth Daryush "is the 
finest British poet since T. Sturge Moore," and so forth. 
Winters deserves much of the ridicule his ex cathedra man- 
ner and excessive statements invite. Even so, Winters is at 
times a very perceptive critic. In Maule's Curse: Seven 
Studies in the History of American Obscurantism (1938) 
there are excellent studies of several American writers, one 
of the best being his examination of "gratuitous emotion- 
alizing" in Poe. His little book on Edwin Arlington Robin- 
son, with whom he feels strong sympathies, is probably the 
best of the critical studies of Robinson. His literal-minded- 
ness in criticizing Henry Adams, Stevens, Eliot, John Crowe 


Ransom, and Frost vitiates his studies of these figures. If 
one can manage, however, to separate some of the basic 
points Winters makes from the exaggerated judgments to 
which they lead him, even these studies can be useful. 

Yet another critic who had strong affinities with the hu- 
manists was Gorham Munson. He had written several vol- 
umes of aesthetic criticism, including Robert Frost (1927), 
Destinations: A Canvass of American Literature Since 1900 
(1928), and Style and Form in American Prose (1929), be- 
fore developing his enthusiasm for the New Humanism. 
Then in 1930, the year he published The Dilemma of the 
Liberated, he contributed "Our Critical Spokesmen" to 
Foerster's symposium Humanism and America. Munson 
declined, however, to be thought an orthodox humanist. 
He objected to the humanist emphasis on "moderation/' 
"the law of measure, Nothing Too Much," but he also saw 
in humanism a valuable critique of the naturalism that 
seemed to be ending in the romantic disillusionment of 
Krutch's The Modern Temper. Of post-Renaissance history 
he said: 

The signs are plentiful of another transition: we have gone from 
the dominance of religious values to the dominance of intel- 
lectual ones, and then to the primacy of emotional values. The 
last stage barbarism will occur with the complete triumph of 
practical and instinctive values. Then Atlas will indeed be but 
an economic creature, cleverly producing what he needs by the 
least effort, and spending his increased leisure in the pursuit of 
cheap distractions from thought and serious emotion. He will 
truly have diminished to the ninth part of a human being. 

In the final chapter of The Dilemma of the Liberated, Mun- 
son says that scientific-utilitarianism and sentimental-ro- 
manticism have, after all, held us at the end of a rather short 


tether. "Our progress must consist in finding out the length 
of our tether, and for that Humanism is one of the most 
available means/' 

Later generations are likely to say that although the nine- 
teenth century made too much of moral questions the critics 
in the first half of the twentieth century, except for the hu- 
manists, made too little of them. It is true that a number 
of critics have said that poetic value was not dependent 
upon the acceptability of the ethical, philosophical, or sci- 
entific statement in a poem. Eliot, for example, said that 
James had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it, and 
he said that because there is a difference between ' 'philo- 
sophical belief and poetic assent" we must distinguish be- 
tween what Dante said as a poet and what he said as a man. 
Ransom, attempting to explain modernity in poetry, said 
that the modern poet is intensely concerned with the pos- 
sibility of creating aesthetic effects apart from moral or 
social considerations: "He cares nothing, professionally, 
about morals, or God, or native land. He has performed a 
work of dissociation and purified his art." Eliot and Ran- 
som were extravagant in such statements. They can be ex- 
cused, however, if one recognizes that their attempts to 
make poetry pure was a part of the revolt against the didac- 
tic heresy, the message-hunting of the Victorians. Poetic 
value, as Eliot and Ransom knew, is not to be identified 
with its philosophical or ethical value. On the other hand, 
they did not come to terms with the fact that perverse or 
silly ideas can weaken or preclude poetic value. Somewhat 
younger critics have been able to accept both emphases. 
Thus Cleanth Brooks requires that a poem or story be able 
to withstand "ironic contemplation"; Robert Penn Warren 
wants an idea to "prove itself" in its context; and Lionel 
Trilling insists on quality, complexity, and maturity of per- 


ception, which he calls "moral realism." The direct in- 
debtedness of these critics to the New Humanism is prob- 
ably slight, but like their contemporaries they have been 
aware 2 of voices raising serious objections to the spirit of 
the age, objecting to romantic individualism and humani- 
tarianism, and insisting on raising moral issues in relation 
to literature in a period when liberalism and reductive 
naturalism were dominating intellectual inquiries. But the 
humanists were essentially negative as critics. They were 
unsympathetic to almost every writer after Racine. Their 
doctrine of discipline, proportion, and moderation was pri- 
marily ethical. If it had been more than that, they could 
have employed it in analyzing modern literature. The hu- 
manists did not bring to criticism any developed awareness 
of what R. P. Blackmur has called "symbolic techniques." 
They were either unable or unwilling to enter imagina- 
tively into a study of symbolic techniques in order to dis- 
cover the way in which raw life, unconscious and residual 
forces, traditions, and new insights were transformed into 

2 For one of the most recent statements of a humanist criticism (although 
the kinship with the New Humanism is not made explicit), see Douglas 
Bush, "The Humanist Critic," Kenyan Review, XIII (Winter 1951), 81-91. 


IG business and the middle-class mores 
it was felt to be sponsoring were, of course, subjected to at- 
tack in the early years of the century. From the muckraking 
movement came John Curtis Underwood's Literature and 
Insurgency (1914). The main point of the book would seem 
to be that slick writing, such as the work of Elinor Glyn or 
of Robert Chambers, was the product of a machine culture, 
similar to conventionalized clothes and standardized amuse- 
ments. Presumably the muckraking magazines and those 
novelists with similar reformist zeal would help restore in- 
dividuality, realism, and honesty by revealing the forces 
behind the phenomenon. Underwood's book is hard to fol- 
low because its thesis is never explicitly developed, if de- 
veloped at all. Obviously Underwood thought Howells too 
genteel, Twain a great democrat, and N orris and David 


Graham Phillips our greatest writers. The real hero of the 
book seems to be Phillips, who revealed, among other 
things, "the pretenses and the posturings of the 'good' 
women of America." James was the victim of something 
called "culture for culture's sake." Precisely how the revo- 
lutionary temper of the insurgents enabled them to write 
an improved brand of American literature is never made 

Upton Sinclair was a little more candid about distin- 
guishing between literary value and a writer's political or 
social views. In pamphlets and in Mammonart (1924) he 
stated a case for literature as class propaganda. "All art is 
propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda: 
sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propa- 
ganda." Sinclair propagandizes for a socialist literature and 
tends to see virtues in writers who, however rawly or crudely 
they write, are on the side of socialism, against rigid mores 
and against economic exploitation; but he is more moderate 
than most of the political critics of the late twenties and 
thirties. Sinclair could see virtues in Henry James and be 
somewhat critical of Phillips and of Jack London. Toward 
the end of Mammonart he says he does not want to praise 
writers who do not have intellect and imagination, and in 
another place he says, "Great art is produced when propa- 
ganda of vitality and importance is put across with technical 
competence." But, like Underwood, Sinclair never explains 
what is involved in technical competence. 

Underwood and Sinclair were writing in the tradition of 
social criticism to which Howells, London, Garland, Norris, 
H. B. Fuller, and others belonged. With some exceptions, 
they assumed a one-to-one relationship between social and 
economic problems as subject matter and honest, realistic, 
and therefore good fiction. The theory of economic determi- 


nism invited more explicit attempts to relate discussions of 
technique and form to social considerations. Oddly enough, 
Brander Matthews, one of the last of the genteel critics, was 
the first to raise the question. He wrote "The Economic 
Interpretation of Literary History," Gateways to Literature 
(1912) in order to suggest ways in which Professor Selig- 
man's economic interpretation of history could be applied 
to the study of literature. 

Matthews acknowledges at the start that the "Hero and 
Hero- Worship" approach of Carlyle that great men domi- 
nate their epoch seems much more relevant to literature 
than to history. "It may be that the American Revolution 
would have run its course successfully even if Washington 
had never been born, and that the Civil War would have 
ended as it did even if Lincoln had died at its beginning; 
but English literature would be very different if there had 
been no Shakspere, and French literature would be very 
different if there had been no Molire." There are, none- 
theless, ways in which a writer is affected by the economic 
situation in which he finds himself. In every age, for ex- 
ample, most writers devote themselves to the literary form 
that is most popular and therefore most profitable. "This 
is what accounts for the richness of drama in England under 
Queen Elizabeth, for the vogue of the essay under Queen 
Anne, and for the immense expansion of the novel under 
Queen Victoria." Matthews says there are four motives 
which inspire literature accomplishment of an immediate 
end, self-expression, fame, and money. Sometimes all four 
combine, but the most insistent is the need for money. 
Whatever one thinks about this hierarchy of motives for 
writing, it is clear that the desire for money is more relevant 
to the sociology of the writer than to literature as an art. 
It has almost nothing to do with the inspiration behind a 


literary work. The problem can be seen more explicitly in 
the following examples quoted by Matthews: 

A distinguisht British art critic has asserted that the luxuriance 
of Tudor architecture is due directly to the introduction of 
root-crops into England. That is to say, the turnip enabled the 
sheep-farmers to carry their cattle thru the winter; and as the 
climate of the British Isles favors sheep raising, the creation of 
a winter food-supply immediately made possible the expansion 
of the wool trade, whereby large fortunes were soon accumu- 
lated, the men thus enricht expending the surplus promptly in 
stately and sumptuous residences. 

Matthews admits that the economic factor here is not a 
direct cause of the architecture. He should have said that 
it is not a cause of the architecture as architecture in any 
sense at all. Taine's formula of race, moment, and milieu, 
on the other hand, would be relevant because the climate 
and ideals of a people would help to inspire the design. But 
most important of all is the presence of an artist capable 
of creating a design that catches the multiple significances 
suggested by the spirit of the place and the people. 

Despite frequent statements to the contrary, economics 
is relevant to literary criticism only where one can show 
that the nature and forms of a work have been designed 
to satisfy a particular audience (coterie, court, or popular), 
that its character is what it is partly because of the audience 
the author had in mind in creating it. In Literature and 
Revolution, translated in 1925, Leon Trotsky wrote: "A 
work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own 
law, that is, the law of art. But Marxism alone can explain 
why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a 
given period in history; who it was who made a demand for 
such an artistic form and not for another, and why. . . ." 


Such a statement as this latter one has a plausible air to it. 
It begins to seem less and less plausible, however, when one 
reaches out for good illustrations. Certainly it would be 
most unlikely that any critic could explain in economic 
terms why Virginia Woolf chose to write lyric in lieu of 
strict plot stories, why the sonnet is rarely written as suc- 
cessfully in the twentieth as in the seventeenth century, or 
why most modern poetry is much more highly stylized than 
nineteenth-century poetry. Similarly, it would be most un- 
likely that a critic could explain solely in economic and class 
terms why Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night were 
written when they were written, for what particular audi- 
ence, and why the audience demanded those particular 
forms. Form is an ambiguous term, but even if we limit it 
to mean the creation of a character like the ambitious Mal- 
volio, forced to recognize his place in order to satisfy the 
aristocratic audience, we have no assurance that the ground- 
lings did not see him as the aggressive, humorless opponent 
of easy living, a type as offensive in the ranks of ironmongers 
or journeymen as in the households of the wealthy. The 
influence of economics on form means even less if by form 
we mean the qualities of suspense and the techniques em- 
ployed to create suspense, metrical patterns, the degree of 
imagination evident in the imagery of various eras, the pace 
of the action, or the tone. Trotsky is saying, on the one 
hand, that art has its own laws; but, on the other hand, he 
denies that it does by insisting that economic forces dictate 
the origins or beginnings of a form. To insist that class or 
audience dictates the form is also to imply that a literary 
genius is merely a highly complex and delicate mechanism 
responding to the economic weather of his age. Sainte- 
Beuve's insistence, in criticizing Taine, that a writer oper- 
ates as a free agent inside the forces presented to him by his 


milieu is even more applicable as a criticism of economic 
determinism, a single aspect of milieu. 

Few critics, not even such a stalwart as Emma Goldman, 
got down to cases in relating economic forces to literary 
form, despite the frequency with which they appealed to 
the reality of the economic interpretation of history. 1 Only 
late in the career of political criticism, in the thirties, when 
the results of equating literary worth with the writer's ad- 
vocacy of social and economic reform were all too evident, 
was there a general awareness that Marx had not at all times 
insisted on a strict linking of economics and literature. In 
fact, he had said: "Certain periods of highest development 
of art stand in no direct connection with the general de- 
velopment of society, nor with the material basis and the 
skeleton structure of its organization." (But Lenin had said: 
"Down with supermen-litterateurs. . . . Literature must be- 
come a component part of the organized, planned, unified 
Socialist party work.") 

Joel Spingarn, in one of his unpublished New School lec- 
tures, said that since 1848, when Marx and Engels stated 
their materialistic conception of history, "all historical study 
has been dominated by the idea of economic causes." Spin- 
garn offered this criticism of the conception: 

The trouble with American art and literature is that America 
is too much absorbed in business. This is a commercial country. 
Therefore we have no art or very poor art and literature. Very 
good. . . . But let us turn to medieval Italy and the bourgeois 
commercial cities of Italy, absorbed with business far more pas- 
sionately than we, produced Dante. In one case business was 

1 Christopher Caudwell (Christopher St. John Sprigg), a British Marxist 
critic, applied himself to the problem in Illusion and Reality (1937). The 
reader can decide for himself whether Caudwell's interpretations are con- 


the cause of no art; in the other case business was the cause of 
the greatest art. 

Moral and religious forces, Spingarn says, are the real gen- 
erative forces in history, and he illustrates the point by re- 
calling that Mohammed preached a narrow and powerful 
doctrine to the Arabs, "a small petty tribe in a desert sur- 
rounded by desert," who were so moved by it that they 
spread the religion of Islam from the whole of North Africa 
to the center of Asia "and except for a mischance would 
have conquered Europe/' Marx and Lenin became new 
Mohammeds. Why, Spingarn asks ironically, did "some ex- 
ternal cause make them into Mohammeds when the causes 
that were at work in Russia for centuries and under a dif- 
ferent religion and a different philosophy had produced 
nothing?" (Bliss Perry to a similar end had quoted Fisher 
Ames on the climate-environment theory in relation to 
Greek literature: "The figs are as fine as ever, but where 
are the Pindars?") That Spingarn was not saying that the 
external conditions had no relation to the generating forces 
of morality and religion, is implied in his concluding state- 
ment: "All life is a process of the inner urge of men acting 
on the external conditions. And history is the unity of the 
condition and the urge. It is not the condition, it is not the 
urge; it is the unity of the condition and the urge." 2 

Marxist criticism in the twenties had few practitioners 
and was uninfluential. It may be that most critics, even 

2 Harry Slochower came to a similar conclusion in Three Ways of Modern 
Man (1937): "Matter and ideas, economics and art, are not identical. Nor is 
the relationship between them such that the one is thoioughly subsumed 
by the other. . . . Man acts not alone from physical necessity. He is driven 
by an inner impulse toward spiritual freedom." 


socialists, did not believe that political theory and litera- 
ture were inextricably interrelated. The isolation-of-art the- 
ories of the nineteenth century had not encouraged such 
a feeling. Max Eastman as an editor of The Masses could 
write about poetry without reference to politics. In fact, his 
later works, Artists in Uniform (1934) and Art and the Life 
of Action (1934), were protests against a state-controlled 
literature. Eastman's thesis in The Literary Mind: Its Place 
in an Age of Science (1931) was that, not being knowledge, 
literature could not compete with science, that is, with "the 
inexorable advance of a more disciplined study of man." 
Therefore 'he was not prepared to take literature as seriously 
as the communists were taking it. His fellow editor Floyd 
Dell seemed more interested in psychoanalysis than in poli- 
tics. Except for occasional reviews and articles in The Lib- 
erator, it was not until Michael Gold began to edit New 
Masses in 1928 that there was a criticism explicitly Marxist. 
Gold wrote, often quite movingly, about the New York 
poor. He was concerned merely with promoting commu- 
nism, and although he knew very little about aesthetic the- 
ory he knew a great deal about arousing sympathy for the 
working classes. Joseph Freeman, on the other hand, in 
Voices of October (1930) and as an editor of Proletarian 
Literature in the United States (1935), tried to make Marx- 
ist criticism acceptable intellectually. He acknowledged that 
much of the proletarian art was pretty bad, even admitting 
that the writer did not have to belong, as Edwin Seaver had 
claimed, to the Party. It was necessary, however, for the 
writer to identify himself with the proletariat; having done 
this, he could "grow in insight and power with the growth 
of the American working class world now beginning to 
tread its historic path toward the new world/* The extent 
to which the war of the classes dictated the value a critic 


could put on a writer is suggested by this passage on Stephen 
Spender as a radical, written by Edwin Berry Burgum for 
Proletarian Literature: 

The poet seeks to escape pessimism by discovering the old 
aristocratic virtues in the lower classes, and especially, it should 
be noted, in their leaders. The great men in one of his most 
characteristic poems, like his old time aristocrats, Spender de- 
scribes as born of the sun, traveling a short while toward the 
sun, and leaving the vivid air signed with their honor. Now in 
all likelihood, honor can be translated into a Communistic vir- 
tue, though it will remain a term of dangerous connotations. . . . 

William Phillips and Philip Rahv, 8 editors of Partisan 
Review, in their contributions to the same volume uttered 
a warning that was not widely accepted: "In criticism the 
'leftist' substitutes gush on the one hand, and invective on 
the other, for analysis; and it is not difficult to see that to 
some of these critics Marxism is not a science but a senti- 

But leftism was so much a part of the intellectual atmos- 
phere that many critics, in and out of the Party, admired or 
disapproved of writers almost exclusively on the grounds of 
their political sentiments. Four of the most influential of 
these were V. F. Calverton, Vernon Louis Parrington, Gran- 
ville Hicks, and Bernard Smith. In Calverton's Modern 
Quarterly (later Modern Monthly), Marxist principles dic- 
tated aesthetic principles. The language experiments of 
Joyce, Eliot, or E. E. Cummings were held to be misguided 
because language should be employed for "social communi- 
cation/' and literature, to be of any value, must "attain a 
social beauty commensurate with radical vision and aspira- 

3 See also Philip Rahv, "Proletarian Literature: An Autopsy," Southern 
Review, Vol. IV (Winter 1939). 


tion." His The Newer Spirit (1925) is a plea for literature 
that serves a social function. Calverton's thesis in The Lib- 
eration of American Literature (1932) is that the decay of 
the middle class is behind the pessimism and the confused 
values of modern literature. Equal suffrage, equal oppor- 
tunity, and freedom of thought are myths. "Middle class 
culture driven to a deception in its economic defense, justi- 
fying exploitation as a virtue and competition as a sign of 
progress, translated the contradiction of its economic life 
into every form of human endeavor." The literature of such 
a society has inevitably reflected its deceptions. Only today, 
with the breakdown of the middle class, when no one can 
believe any longer in its idealism, "are we able to appreciate 
the catastrophic extent to which human thought and im- 
pulse were sold out to the burgher." The future belongs 
not to the "bourgeois individualist" but to the "proletarian 
collectivism" Calverton then cites a group of novelists and 
critics who recognize the need for an alliance not with the 
acquisitive capitalist but with the intellectual and imagina- 
tive proletariat. The premise is that all cultural expressions 
have their source in an economic order, but even if one 
could accept the rigors and simplicity of such a theory it 
would seem unnecessary to attribute virtue exclusively to 
the proletariat and vice to the middle class. 

Vernon Louis Parrington's Main Currents in American 
Thought, appearing in 1927 and 1930, treated American 
literature almost entirely in political and economic terms. 
E. H. Eby, writing the Introduction to the third volume 
after Parrington's death, said that three principles explain 
the method of the study: Taine's theory, economic determi- 
nism, and the equating of American thought with Ameri- 
can literature. "When he envisaged American literature as 
American thought, the trammel of the belletristic was 


broken and he was free to reevaluate American writers. 
. . . The economic forces imprint their mark upon political, 
social, and religious institutions; literature expresses the 
result in its thought content/' These principles gave Par- 
rington a method whereby he could be "true to the facts/' 
and his liberalism gave him the position and point of view 
in terms of which the facts could be evaluated. 

In the Introduction to the first volume Parrington had 
written: "The point of view from which I have endeavored 
to evaluate the materials is liberal rather than conservative, 
Jeffersonian rather than Federalistic; and very likely in my 
search I have found what I went forth to find, as others have 
discovered what they were searching for/' The sacred books 
were: J. Allen Smith's The Spirit of American Government 
(1907) and Charles A. Beard's An Economic Interpretation 
of the Constitution (1913). It was unnecessary to go to Karl 
Marx because the doctrine had "shaped the conclusions 
of Madison and Hamilton and John Adams, and it reap- 
peared in the arguments of Webster and Calhoun." The 
equalitarian doctrines of the French are "treacherous ro- 
manticism," but economic determinism is "sober reality/' 
Americans have confused the Declaration of Independence 
and the Constitution, forgetting that one is a "classical 
statement of French humanitarian democracy, the other an 
organic law designed to safeguard the minority under re- 
publican rule." Parrington did not explain how economic 
determinism is consistent with "the liberal's faith" in the 
rise of the proletariat, his own Jeffersonian democracy, but 
he said that, beginning with Wilson's Administration, this 
faith had proved justified. Nor did he explain in specific in- 
stances just how a given literary work was the product of 
economic forces. The truth would seem to be that Parring- 
ton's system, social and economic determinism, was another 


form of scientism and that he himself was a romantic of the 
type he claimed to deplore. 4 

Granville Hicks, during his term as a communist, was a 
spokesman for party-line literature. In "The Crisis in Criti- 
cism" (1933), an article in the New Masses, he laid down the 
rules for the "perfect Marxian novel." It must "directly or 
indirectly show the effects of the class struggle," "make the 
reader feel he is participating in the lives described," and 
through its point of view make clear that the author belongs 
to "the vanguard of the proletariat." Like Parrington, Hicks 
had to equate the valuable parts of the American literary 
tradition with an acceptable political and social view. The 
Great Tradition: An Interpretation of American Literature 
Since the Civil War (1933) ends with this summary: 

What stirs us in Emerson is his confidence in the common man, 
his courageous appeal for action, his faith in the future. He and 
Thoreau were rebels against the shams and oppressions of their 
day. They used the language of their times, the language of in- 
dividualism, but they spoke for all the oppressed, and some of 
their words remain a call to arms. Whitman felt deeply his kin- 
ship with the workers and farmers and caught a glimpse of the 
collective society. Howells, James, and Mark Twain shrank in 
their various ways from the cupidity of the gilded age, and 
Howells, teaching himself to think in terms of a new social 
order, tried, however feebly, to create, in imagination and fact, 
a better world. Garland and Norris denounced oppression; Her- 
rick and Phillips worked for reform; Sinclair and London called 
themselves socialists. 

4 Parrington's style frequently exhibits a floridity and aspiring quality 
that contradicts his stated concern with "hard fact" and "sober reality." The 
following is a sentence singled out by Yvor Winters, one of his harshest 
critics: "The golden dreams ot transcendental faith, that buoyed up Emer- 
son and gave hope to Thoreau, turned to ashes in his mouth; the white 
gleams of mysticism that now and then lighted up his path died out and 
left him in darkness." 


It is significant that Hawthorne, Melville, Emily Dickinson, 
Henry Adams, Stephen Crane, and Edith Wharton appar- 
ently do not belong to the great tradition. 

Bernard Smith's Forces in American Criticism (1939) was 
also in the Parrington tradition but militantly Marxist. In 
his chapter on twentieth-century criticism he explains why 
Marxist criticism is superior to impressionist and expres- 
sionist criticism: 

The Marxist thesis may be briefly stated as follows: a work 
of literature reflects its author's adjustment to society. To de- 
termine the character and value of the work we must therefore, 
among other things, understand and have an opinion about the 
social forces that produced the ideology it expresses as an atti- 
tude toward life. Marxism enables us to understand those forces 
by explaining the dialectical relationship of a culture to an 
economy and of that culture to the classes which exist in that 
economy. At the same time, by revealing the creative role of the 
proletariat in establishing a communist society, which alone can 
realize universal peace and well-being, Marxism offers a scale of 
value. Moral as well as political judgments follow from that 
thesis and they include a condemnation of the bourgeois sex- 
ual code, of woman's traditional place in the community, and 
of the accepted relative prestige of labor and unproductive 
leisure. Of immediate significance to the critic is the conception 
of reality from which the thesis is evolved and which the thesis 

Smith, too, was caught in the thesis that social significance 
is also literary significance. A victim of the doctrinaire na- 
ture of most American Marxist criticism, he was forced, as 
Morton D. Zabel put it, into a "crudity of sympathy, that 
keeps him in petty fear of admitting 'beauty* ... as the 
proper concern of any serious artist; of sensibility as a criti- 
cal instrument of infinitely greater importance . . . than 
popular or political passions/' 


Parrington, Hicks, and Smith employed only economic 
and social criteria and ignored, ridiculed, or disallowed the 
reputations built on standards of artistry. Thus, Parrington 
on Poe: "The problem of Poe, fascinating as it is, lies quite 
outside the main current of American thought, and it may 
be left with the psychologist and the belletrist with whom it 
belongs." On Hawthorne: "He was the extreme and finest 
expression of the refined alienation from reality that in the 
end palsied the creative mind of New England." On James: 
"In his subtle psychological inquiries, he remained shut up 
within his own skull-pan." Hicks did not know where to 
place Poe 'as a part of the American heritage, but Smith at- 
tacked him as a Virginia aristocrat. Hicks was also uneasy 
with James, finally criticizing his failure to show the reader 
the source of income of his characters. Smith was contemp- 
tuous of James, finding him a snob, a Tory, above the hard 
social realities of his age. The three critics were harsh with 
the writer who did not concern himself directly with the 
social, economic, and political problems of his own day. 
Melville was alienated from his society and strangely pre- 
occupied with evil; Emily Dickinson could not come to 
terms with her age; Twain, too, infrequently concerned 
himself with the social movements of his time; Mrs. Whar- 
ton's looking backward to the iSyo's for her subject was a 
retreat. Any writer with traditional values, religious sym- 
pathies, or belief was probably a coward or a hypocrite. 
Thus, Hicks on Eliot: "We need not ask how so melodra- 
matic a skeptic can accept the dogmas of Anglicanism, or 
what so intelligent an observer can expect from the King 
of England, or why so resolute an experimenter should af- 
firm his allegiance to the laws of ancient art." Any form of 
conservatism was unquestionably bad. Ellen Glasgow's lik- 
ing for good breeding makes her an "apologist," James's 


concern with the morality of good manners is mere snob- 
bery, and Hawthorne's preoccupation with evil is the deal- 
ing with shadows. 


James T. Farrell's A Note on Literary Criticism (1936), 
written by an "amateur Marxist," is a criticism of some of 
the oversimplifications of Hicks, Gold, and others. The un- 
derlying principle in the essay is that no single emphasis 
can serve to exhaust the values and meanings in a literary 
work; however important the political may be, it does not 
preclude other emphases, the psychological, the moral, the 
biographical, or the aesthetic. The emphasis on economic 
determinism and the coming victory of the proletariat had 
caused Marxist novelists and dramatists to insist on a very 
restricted meaning for the word ''real." This is the curtain 
speech from Clifford Odets's Paradise Lost: 

No! There is more to life than thisl Everything he said is 
true, but there is more. That was the past, but there is a future. 
Now we know. We dare to understand. Truly, truly, the past 
was a dream. But this is real! To know from this that something 
must be done. That is real. We searched; we were confused! But 
we searched, and now the search is ended. For the truth has 
found us. For the first time in our lives for the first time our 
house has a real foundation. . . . 

To reduce all the cultural problems of the twentieth cen- 
tury to an economic base, Farrell said, forces the writer to 
divide the world into warring classesthe bourgeoisie who 
represent decay and death, the proletariat who represent 
life and growth; to avoid bourgeois subject matter as de- 
cadent, especially that centering in personal relationships; 
to be indifferent to style, structure, and the logic of events 


because of the need to propagandize for the new world or- 
der. Literature thus divides neatly into four classifications: 
bourgeois, or decadent; proletarian, that is, "with Marxian 
insight"; exposure, showing the evils of the present social 
order; and revolutionary, teaching strikers and farmers how 
to organize. 

Certain other critics, although agreeing with Farrell that 
in their fervor most of the Marxist writers had been great 
simplifiers, insisted that the American writer had to ally 
himself with the proletariat. Newton Arvin wrote Whitman 
(1938) because "the clearer it becomes that the next inevita- 
ble step iri human history is the establishment of a socialist 
order, the more interested every man becomes in scanning 
the work of writers and artists in the recent past for what- 
ever resources there may be in it on which a socialist culture 
may draw/' Horace Gregory could point to the absurdity of 
C. Day Lewis's line: "Waters of the world unite"; but he 
could also add that the poet in the thirties was under an 
obligation to instruct "a bitter, faithless, rotting social or- 
ganism, a post- War world." Robert Cantwell could write a 
highly perceptive essay about the society of Henry James in 
order to compare it with the society of the proletarian novel- 
ist, concluding with this sentence: "To Make My Bread, in 
turn, with its weaknesses, gives a new meaning to the term 
'beginning of a tradition,' while the works of Henry James 
so richly and fully illustrate what is meant by the end of 
one." Malcolm Cowley in Exile's Return (1934) and in 
many reviews for The New Republic also insisted on the 
writer's primary responsibility to society. Cowley would 
not acknowledge with John Dos Passos that the individual 
writer, to avoid damnation, had to oppose society or the 
world; a new and better society is possible, and if we are 
"for the moment a beaten nation, the fight is not over." 



The point of view in Axel's Castle: A Study in the Im- 
aginative Literature of 1870-1930 (1931), which opened 
Edmund Wilson's career as a critic, exhibits a conflict simi- 
lar to that of Dos Passos whether a writer should serve his 
art or his age. The highly individualized art of symbolism, 
in defiance of the authority of science and naturalism, had 
given us the art of William Butler Yeats, Paul Valery, Eliot, 
Marcel Proust, and Joyce, our most impressive writers. But 
was this enough? "The question begins to press us again as 
to whether it is possible to make a practical success of hu- 
man society, and whether, if we continue to fail, a few mas- 
terpieces, however profound or noble, will be able to make 
life worth living even for the few people in a position to 
enjoy them.'* Wilson suggested, therefore, that we need an- 
other type of artist, closer to Wells and Shaw than to Yeats 
or Proust, presumably writers who would help promote a 
better society. Wilson was overlooking what Yeats knew, 
that literature is a world of deeply moving and permanently 
valuable symbols and insights, not blueprints for social 
planning; that a poet's imagination cannot be forced but 
responds to and makes luminous whatever quickens it. The 
social consequences of literature are likely to be indirect. 

Wilson's commentaries on politics and literature tend to 
be acts of faith in a Marxist social order or sympathetic ges- 
tures about the value to literary criticism in the great in- 
sights furnished by Marx and Engels. In " Marxism and 
Literature" from The Triple Thinkers (1938) we read that 
under Marxism society itself "becomes the work of art." In 
"Historical Criticism," a lecture given in 1940, he lists Mi- 
chelet, Renan, Sainte-Beuve, and Taine as a school which 


had interpreted books in terms of their historical origins, 
adding the names of Marx and Engels because they had 
shown the importance of economics in the interpretation 
of historical phenomena. But, again, Wilson does not dem- 
onstrate how economic determinism controls literary phe- 
nomena. Wilson has written excellent elucidations of spe- 
cific works and brilliant accounts, especially in The Wound 
and the Bow (1941), of the psychological hurts of authors 
like Kipling and Dickens, but, despite his pieties about the 
economic interpretations of literature, he has written noth- 
ing in which economics might be said to explain a work of 
literature^ Irving Howe has said the most admirable part 
of Wilson's career has been his "trying to live up to the 
dictum that, whatever else, the criticism of literature should 
not be merely a criticism of literature." On the contrary, 
this probably has been a source of weakness in Wilson's 
criticism. Criticism has its focal point in the literary work 
itself. Literature is not life or reality. It is an imaginative 
creation which indirectly can enlarge our understanding 
and improve the quality of our sensibilities. Wilson is at 
his best when he stays close to the given work. When, for 
example, he examines the imagery of John Steinbeck's 
prose, as he does in The Boys in the Back Room (1941) and 
proceeds to relate it to Steinbeck's preoccupation with biol- 
ogy he enables us to better understand the values which in- 
form Steinbeck's fiction. In reading this latter sort of criti- 
cism one has no reason to feel that Wilson's sense of social 
urgencies is looming so large that literature threatens to 
seem trivial. 

Harry Levin's widely read essay " Literature as an Institu- 
tion" (1946) also stresses the social at the expense of the 
artistic aspects of literature. Levin grants Taine his due but 
observes that Georg Brandes, the Danish critic, had added 


a corollary to Taine's method. "Literature is not only the 
effect of social causes; it is also the cause of social effects/' 5 
Levin also gives attention to Sainte-Beuve's point about the 
individual writer being able to move freely, uniquely, in- 
side his race, moment, and milieu, but he relates it to an- 
other nineteenth-century idea, Ferdinand Brunetire's "ev- 
olution of genres," the notion that literary forms evolve, 
change, and sometimes die off. "The irreducible element of 
individual talent would seem to play the same role in the 
evolution of genres" Levin says, "that natural selection 
plays in the origin of species." Levin also makes the im- 
portant point that conventions, "the necessary differences 
between art and life," have to be studied. But he has little 
faith in the ability of most critics to use Croce's concept of 
"expressive form" or Coleridge's "organic principle" as 
means of analyzing and evaluating any but acknowledged 
masterpieces. For these forms of criticism he would substi- 
tute an "institutional method": 

One convenience of the institutional method is that it gives due 
credit to the never-ending collaboration between writer and 
public. It sees no reason to ignore what is relevant in the psy- 
chological prepossessions of the craftsman, and it knows that 
he is ultimately to be judged by the technical resources of his 
craftsmanship; but it attains its clearest and most comprehen- 
sive scope by centering on his craft on his social status and his 
historical function as participant in a skilled and a living tra- 

5 Mme de Stael, in A Treatise on Ancient and Modern Literature (1803), 
made the same point: "The object of the present work is to examine what 
is the influence of Religion, of Manners, and of Laws upon Literature; and 
reciprocally how far Literature may affect Laws, Manners, and Religion. On 
the art of composition and the principles of taste there are extant, in the 
French tongue, treatises the most accurate and complete; but, methinks, suf- 
ficient pains have not been taken to analyze the moral and political causes 
which modify and mark the character of Literature." 


Levin's emphasis, like Taine's, makes for an extrinsic, a so- 
cial, view of literature. In implying that the ultimate opin- 
ion about the work of a writer is to be determined only by 
time, Levin dismisses judicial criticism. 

The framework of Levin's critical procedures is more 
complex than Taine's, even when Taine's have been modi- 
fied and extended by other critics. Levin's primary focus, 
however, is not on the individual work of art but on its 
origins and its consequences, its social relationships. With 
such an emphasis the work itself tends to be absorbed into 
studies of literary conventions and of milieu. Literature is 
examined not so much in terms of what it is as in terms of 
what it does, where it came from, and what it relates to. 
Study carried on inside such a framework moves away from 
the criticism of literature toward the sociology of literature. 

Unlike most critics strongly concerned with politics, eco- 
nomics, and sociology, Levin appears to have no social plat- 
form to promote. Lionel Trilling, on the other hand, is, 
as a critic, very much concerned with understanding and 
strengthening the liberal-democratic tradition. He studies 
the characteristics of this tradition as they manifest them- 
selves in art forms. In Matthew Arnold (1939), E. M. Forster 
(1943), and The Liberal Imagination (1950), Trilling has, 
for example, frequently pointed out stereotypes and preju- 
dices that have developed as a part of this tradition. He finds 
it unrealistic to believe that character can be reduced to its 
social origins; he objects to the pseudo science of the notion 
that those claiming to be objective can somehow avoid judg- 
ments, preferences, and assumptions; and he believes it dan- 
gerous to stress only one side of our tradition to stress the 
Enlightenment at the expense of the romantic movement. 

Criticizing the influence of Parrington, he writes: "Par- 
rington stands at the center of American thought about 


American culture because, as I say, he expresses the chronic 
belief that there exists an opposition between reality and 
mind and that one must enlist in the party of reality/' 
"Manners, Morals and the Novel," for example, shows how 
this tradition influences the way novels are written: 

[T]he reality we admire tells us that the observation of man- 
ners is trivial and even malicious, that there are things much 
more important for the novel to consider. As a consequence our 
social sympathies have indeed broadened, but in proportion as 
they have done so we have lost something of our power of love, 
for our novels can never create characters who truly exist. . . . 
The reviewers of Helen Howe's novel f We Happy Few] thought 
its satiric first part, an excellent satire on the manners of a small 
but significant segment of society, was ill-natured and unsatis- 
factory, but they approved the second part, which is the record 
of the heroine's self-accusing effort to come into communication 
with the great soul of America. Yet it should have been clear 
that the satire had its source in a kind of affection, in a real 
community of feeling, and told the truth, while the second part, 
said to be so "real," was mere abstraction, one more example of 
our public idea of ourselves and our national life. 

Trilling, in this and other essays, is concerned with the so- 
cial aspects of literature, but it would be wrong to infer 
that this means a lack of concern with the structure of the 
literary work. Trilling, as in his examination of deficiencies 
in character drawing in the latter part of Helen Howe's 
novel, is showing how social attitudes affect the very struc- 
ture of a work. 


Ours is a political century, and it has probably been in- 
evitable that political considerations would frequently mas- 
querade as literary considerations. During World War II, 


for example, a group of critics decided that modern authors 
were too pessimistic. Archibald MacLeish in The Irrespon- 
sibles (1940), Van Wyck Brooks in The Opinions of Oliver 
Allston (1941), and Bernard De Voto in The Literary Fal- 
lacy (1944) attacked Eliot, Pound, Faulkner, Hemingway, 
Lewis, and others for not being more affirmative about the 
virtues of Western democratic life. MacLeish even sug- 
gested that such writers had helped make us an easy target 
for the totalitarian countries. Allen Tate satirized the il- 
logic of such a position in "Ode to the Young Pro Consuls 
of the Air": 

Sad day at Oahu 
When the Jap beetle hit! 
Our Proustian retort 
Was Kimmel and Short. 

The other fallacy in such criticism is in the assumption that 
any line, affirmative or otherwise, can be dictated to the au- 
thor with the expectation that his imagination will find it 
engaging and will thereupon proceed to transmute it into 
literature. The important question why in all its complexi- 
ties modern literature is what it is seemed not to concern 
these critics. It is worthy of comment that this criticism by 
Brooks, MacLeish, and De Voto has a conservative tendency 
which might suggest that those concerned with maintain- 
ing the freedom of the artist to create his vision of the world 
have no inevitable allegiance either to the Right or to the 
Left. For their own social or political ends, such critics 
wished to dictate the kind of literature American authors 
should write. They were not willing to allow a literature 
collectively to tell the whole, interrelated, and necessarily 
complex truth. 


. SYCHOANALYTIC criticism in the United 
States owes its first impulse to the Freudians, who em- 
phasized language and the unconscious; its second to the 
Jungians, who have concerned themselves primarily with 
symbol and myth. There has been only an incidental con- 
cern with Gestalt and Adlerian psychologies. Two of our 
most perceptive students of psychoanalysis and literature, 
Frederick J. Hoffman 1 and Lionel Trilling, 2 have pointed 
out that Freud himself was indebted to a Zeitgeist which 
included not merely Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and their 
concern with passion and desire as prime movers, but poets 
and critics of the entire nineteenth century who sought to 

1 Freudianism and the Literary Mind (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State 
Univ. Press, 1945). 

2 "Freud and Literature," The Liberal Imagination (New York, Viking, 


probe and understand the powers for wisdom, as well as the 
satanism and irrationalism hidden in the unconscious parts 
of the mind. Preoccupation with the affective life, with 
dreams, with the association of ideas is common to roman- 
tic and symbolist literature; and many contemporaries of 
Freud who might seem to be were not indebted directly to 
him. With critics, the indebtedness is likely to be much 
clearer and often explicit. References to Oedipus complex,^ 
manifest and latent dreams, specific symbols in dreams, dis- 
placement, condensation, and the like usually imply a first- 
hand acquaintance with Freud's theories. Similarly, critical 
awareness of archetypes and mythical patterns is likely to 
imply some acquaintance with Jung and other students of 

The Poetic Mind (1922) by Frederick C. Prescott was 
the first careful American adaptation of Freudian theory 
to literature. It remains among the best of them. (He had 
published "Poetry and Dreams'* in Abnormal Psychology 
as early as 1912.) Prescott develops the analogy between 
dreams and poetry, leaning especially on Freud's observa- 
tion, which he called "condensation/' that in dreams sev- 
eral characters, words, or objects often telescope or fuse. 
The language of poetry, Prescott says, also shows conden- 
sation. "Of these various meanings one may be the primary 
denotation, the other secondary, suggested, or connoted. 
But often the surface meaning will be of less importance 
than the latent ones; the idea having true poetic significance 
and bearing the emotional emphasis will not be said but 
suggested, and the real poetry will be between the lines; 
the secondary meaning may be the one of prime impor- 
tance/' Prescott also reminds us that condensation is a part 
of Freud's theory of wit. One of Prescott's illustrations is 
from a speech of Hotspur's against Henry IV: 


We must have bloody noses and crack'd crowns 
And pass them current too. God's me, my horse. 

"Here the 'crack'd crowns' are first cracked coins, secondly 
broken heads, and thirdly royal crowns upset. Note too that 
the third meaning is at once farthest from the literal, the 
most latent, perhaps the most unconscious (in Hotspur's 
mind), and the most far-reaching (involving the whole dra- 
matic action)." This passage also illustrates Freud's prin- 
ciple of "displacement," a shift in emphasis whereby the 
important is made to seem inconsequential. Prescott also 
relates other principles of psychology to poetry and to prose 
fiction, but with less conspicuous success. Prescott antici- 
pated in part the kind of critical analysis associated with 
Robert Graves and Laura Riding, I. A. Richards and Wil- 
liam Empson. His work deserves more recognition than it 
has commonly had. Unfortunately, the critics who leaned 
on psychology did not follow up the remarkable beginnings 
made by Prescott, especially his attempts to use Freud's the- 
ories with precision. 

Strangely, the influence of Marx on American criticism 
was closely related to the influence of Freud. For the most 
part, the two systems are not easily reconciled or made com- 
patible. The one tends to emphasize the determining pow- 
ers of economic and social factors and to see them as analyza- 
ble and subject to change and manipulation; the other tends 
to see many of man's problems as inherent, hidden, and 
ineradicable. The one emphasizes the group and patterns 
of external relationships; the other, the personal and idio- 
syncratic. Marx's system tends to view the future as Utopian; 
Freud's, to see man's fate as a tragedy to be alleviated wher- 
ever possible. But Marx and Freud have been frequently 
accepted as twin engines moving to destroy the bourgeois 


economic structure and bourgeois moral conventions. For 
example, Max Eastman and Floyd Dell, editors of The 
Masses, were among the first popularizers of Freud and psy- 
choanalysis. Marx and Freud have been seen as liberators, 
helping society to throw off its shackles, or, as the phrase 
had it, "to escape from its repressions." These repressions 
were at once economic, moral, and sexual, and since the 
attack on the middle-class mores was more negative than 
constructive, most of the critics who merged Marx and 
Freud did not worry unduly about the inconsistencies. A 
few of them, of course, insisted that the systems were in- 

The chief symbol of repression was a composite figure 
called "the puritan," apparently the creation of Randolph 
Bourne in "The Puritan's Will to Power" in The Seven 
Arts (April 1917). Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, Menck- 
en, and many others, as we have seen, took up the cry. 
By December 1920, Charles Beard protested that the term 
had become merely a symbolic scapegoat: "By the critics it 
is used as a term of opprobrium applicable to anything that 
interferes with the new freedom, free verse, psycho-analysis, 
or even the double entendre." 

The puritansometimes it was the pioneer also sacri- 
ficed art, the natural graces, personal freedom, and so forth 
to making money. Worst of all, he was complacent. The era 
of Coolidge, priding itself on being "a business civiliza- 
tion," which could suffer Bruce Barton to write a popular 
study of Jesus as a supersalesman, undoubtedly deserved 
much of the attack it received. Naturally, too, complacency 
about the spirit of business and practicality having the sanc- 
tion of Christianity easily became righteousness about the 
proprieties and all moral issues. The reaction, by insisting 
on the place of sex as a determining force in the writer's 


life and work, frequently was excessive and a little glib. It 
was obviously an easy matter to relate the puritan to psy- 
choanalysis and especially to Freud, whose Three Contribu- 
tions to a Theory of Sex, translated in 1910, stated that 
neuroses invariably had a sexual basis. 

In England in 1910, Professor Ernest Jones published his 
study of the Oedipus complex in Hamlet, finding the cause 
of Hamlet's inability to act in his unconscious feeling of 
guilty love for his mother. Thus, too, Hamlet's jealousy of 
Claudius became an added element in Hamlet's avenging 
his father's death. Jones tended to reduce the play to the 
Oedipus complex but he, like Prescott, was a sober and re- 
sponsible student. Neither Prescott nor Jones allowed his 
general acceptance of Freudian theory to warp his judgment 
or induce him to use terminology glibly. Albert Mordell, 
who wrote The Erotic Motive in Literature (1919) was less 
careful. His manner and tone are suggested by this passage: 

The influence of the writer's attitude towards his father or 
mother appears in his literary work. Stendhal has left us a record 
of the intense child love he had for his mother; he hated his 
father. One can see the results of these conditions in his life, 
work and beliefs.- H^ became an atheist, since people who throw 
off the influence oy their fathers often cast aside also their belief 
in a universal father. This also explains largely the atheism of 
Shelley, whose relations with his father were not cordial. 

Far too much is made of the Oedipus complex and what 
Mordell calls the brother-and-sister complex. In terms of 
the latter, for example, the gentleness, kindliness, and moral 
tone in Kenan's writing are explained as "due to [an] at- 
tachment to his sister." And the persistence with which 
Mordell looks for sexual significance causes him to explain 
complex poems in a crudely reductive way, as when he says 


Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" is essentially a plea for 
free love. Mordell succumbed to the excitement of psycho- 
analytical criticism in a way described by Maxwell Boden- 
heim in 1922 as being all too common: "Art, philosophy, 
mysticismall are dismissed as mere sublimations^ of the 
sexual impulse and men write ponderous books iji which 
they frantically attempt to unearth an erotic motive in every 
kind of literature and art." 

Bodenheim's criticism applies to the later work of Lud- 
wig Lewisohn. In this work, especially Expression in Amer- 
ica (1932), Lewisohn was less preoccupied with political and 
social questions than he had been during his period with 
The Nation. Lewisohn concentrated on problems, one in 
particular, that affected the psychological well-being of the 
individual and was only slightly concerned with the eco- 
nomic, social, and impersonal forces by which, as the Marx- 
ist critics would say, the writer is formed. More specifically, 
Lewisohn concentrated on the ways in which sexual inhibi- 
tions had affected the writing of American literature. There 
is no understanding the quality of a man's style, the degree 
of his commitment to life, or the intensity of his being, 
Lewisohn holds, unless one knows what he is sexually. "Sex, 
contrary to the common uninstructed opinion, is not peri- 
pheral and localized, but pervasive. It is like one drop of 
the most powerful coloring matter in the world dropped 
into a great jar of colorless water. It tinges every atom of 
the water." The thesis tends to dominate, to be the cen- 
tral consideration in his history of American literature, but 
Lewisohn is a perceptive critic. His discussions of James 
and Sherwood Anderson do not, as is the case with a few 
of their other critics, concentrate on the psychology of sex 
at the expense of the question of talent. 

The biography Margaret Fuller (1920) by Katharine An- 


thony is one of the first to make use of psychoanalytic inter- 
pretations. Thus Margaret Fuller's dream of following the 
body of her mother to its grave is explained by Miss An- 
thony: "She had a primeval murderous wish to attend the 
funeral of her beloved mother," and of being trampled by 
horses: "The vision of the trampling horses is an erotic 
phantasy common among hysterical maidens." Margaret 
Fuller's marriage to young Assoli, the indigent Italian no- 
bleman, is accounted for in similar terms: "He filled up the 
place left vacant in her life by her favorite brother Eugene 
and she restored in his the long cherished maternal image." 
But the biography, despite its avowed dependence on "mod- 
ern psychological analysis," is really an attempt to save the 
reputation of an ardent feminist from a legend "created 
mainly by unemancipated men." 

Van Wyck Brooks wrote perhaps the most influential of 
the psychoanalytical biographies in which repression, either 
explicitly sexual or as enforced respectability, played a pri- 
mary part in the writer's career and in which a significant 
event is made a key to the writer's entire career. The Ordeal 
of Mark Twain (1920) gives a vivid account, as Twain him- 
self had to his biographer, of the deathbed scene of his 
father at which his mother had made him promise he would 
not break her heart. The experience was crucial, Brooks 
said, making it easier for Twain to succumb to the respecta- 
bility of his later advisers, his wife and his friend Howells. 
Brooks may well have had hold of a significant episode, 
but he pushed his thesis too hard by insisting that none of 
Twain's books was successful and that, free from such re- 
pressive conditions, Twain would hive been a very great 
and different kind of writer. 

Raymond Weaver's Herman Melville: Mariner and Mys- 
tic (1920) and Lewis Mumford's Herman Melville (1929) 


participate in the Brooks tradition of explaining the partial 
failure of American writers in terms of the debilitating ef- 
fects of the Gilded Age, but they also introduce the sug- 
gestion that sex in Melville's novels and poems is always 
referred to in a mood of disillusion. In Pierre, for example, 
Mumford reads a period of regression for Melville: "Sex 
meant marriage; marriage meant a household and a tired 
wife and children and debts. No wonder he retreated: no 
wonder his fantasy attached him to a mother who could not 
surrender, to a half sister who could not bear children." 
Some years later F. O. Matthiessen admitted that it was evi- 
dent Melville was "tormented by the ambiguity of sexual 
relations as they revealed the impossibility of ideal truth," 
but biographies tend to dissolve the literary work into mere- 
ly a series of psychoanalytical hunches and guesses. Even a 
highly trained psychiatrist could make out only a hypotheti- 
cal case. 

But the temptation to explain works of art in terms of the 
author's sex life was apparently very great. According to 
Thomas Beer, the preoccupation of Henry Adams with the 
mechanization of America and with the unity of thirteenth- 
century Europe is easily explained. Painfully "deprived of 
a charming wife," Adams began "to discover the sexlessness 
of American literature," and finally he became "the chival- 
rous rhapsodist of the medieval Virgin." Beer's The Mauve 
Decade (1926), written for a popular audience, suggests the 
ease with which the historian or critic could thus account 
for a writer's most significant work. 

One of the most fascinating of these studies is Joseph 
Wood Krutch's Edgar Allan PoeA Study in Genius (1926). 
Poe invites psychoanalytical criticism, and it is tempting to 
move beyond the evidence of the stories and poems them- 
selves to discuss Poe's personal abnormalities. Krutch is 


fairly insistent that he has hit upon the source of the ab- 

Poe could not love in the normal fashion and the reason lay or 
seemed to him to lay [sic] in the death of some woman upon 
whom his desire had irrevocably fixed itself. If we knew who 
lay behind the doors of that tomb in the ghoul-haunted wood- 
land of Weir, we should know the answer to the greatest riddle 
of Poe's life. 

Even if one is hesitant about accepting Krutch's theory, his 
general interpretation sets up the contrast between the ra- 
tional themes, commonplace settings, normal motivations, 
and the abnormalities of Poe's work. 

Houston Peterson in The Melody of Chaos (1931) de- 
scribes Conrad Aiken, the center of the study, thus: "An 
extreme introvert with a critical turn of mind that is bru- 
tally objective, he is well qualified to understand cases of 
morbid repression, multiple personality and the whole lit- 
erature of spiritual ambiguity." It is assumed, although not 
insistently, that Aiken as the favorite child of a beautiful 
mother developed an Oedipus complex which "turned his 
longings away from Reality to the dark subjective world of 
the lyric artist/' Much of the book is in a similar vein. If 
one makes allowance, however, for the exuberance or ex- 
cesses generated by the period in which it was written, the 
book is valuable for its account of the self in modern litera- 
ture, a subject of central importance. Also valuable in its 
way is Edward Dahlberg's Do These Bones Live? (1941). It 
is a strangely impressive yet perverse book, not a little like 
the criticism of D. H. Lawrence, 3 in which the critic's own 

3 Studies of Lawrence thus far have been more biographical than critical. 
Horace Gregory's Pilgrim of the Apocalypse: A Critical Study of D. H. 
Lawrence (1933) is critical, but it does little with Lawrence's preoccupation 
with sex and nothing with the mother-son relationship. Nor, unlike Maud 


message and style always dominate the occasion. The con- 
sequence of the denial of the flesh is the theme. Thus, of 
Hawthorne: "There is not a human pollution in any of his 
novels. His most evil pages distil an endemic miasma in- 
stead of rank protoplasm." Of Poe: "Could Edgar Poe have 
spoken out of himself, out of remembered nature, as he does 
in the Letters pooled with anguishing tears and loneliness, 
he might have uttered a minor faustian tragedy, made a 
lovely sensual Margaret, instead of lacquering seraphic and 
sepulchral mannikins who have ventriloquistic shudders, 
so like the much smaller gothic 'bioloquist' Charles Brock- 
den Brown, lo, the 'Father of the American Novel* I" Dahl- 
berg never considers that his own prophetic vision might be 
darkening the landscape just a little. But, as E. M. Forster 
says, it is hard to read a prophet without first suspending 
one's sense of humor. 

More than any other critic of equal stature, Edmund Wil- 
son has employed the psychoanalytical method. Some of his 
earlier essays, as those on A. E. Housman and Samuel Butler 
from The Triple Thinkers (1938), attempt to relate the life 
to the work, but in The Wound and the Bow (1941) the 
method is more explicitly psychoanalytical. "Dickens: The 
Two Scrooges" and "The Kipling that Nobody Read," espe- 
cially the latter, are brilliant studies. The key to Dickens's 
fiction is said to be the six months that nine-year-old Dick- 
ens spent working in a rat-infested warehouse while his 
father was in the Marshalsea for debt. "Dickens' seizures in 
his blacking-bottle days were obviously neurotic symptoms; 

Bodkin's Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (1934), did Gregory attempt to re- 
late Lawrence's symbols to Jung's primordial images. Hoffman's Freudian- 
ism and the Literary Mind provides the fullest account of Lawrence's knowl- 
edge of and reaction to Freud and Jung and suggests that most likely the 
final draft of Sons and Lovers saw a clarification of the mother-son theme 
as a result of conversations about Freud which Lawrence had been having. 


and the psychologists have lately been telling us that lasting 
depressions and terror may be caused by such cuttings-short 
of the natural development of childhood.'* The shame and 
humiliation, Dickens himself said, haunted him all his life. 
Wilson does a good job of relating many of Dickens's sub- 
jects, themes, moods, and characters to this experience. Yet, 
about halfway through the essay Wilson explains the ex- 
tremes of good and bad, of comic and serious melodrama 
with evil characters becoming good and comic characters 
becoming serious in terms of Dickens's emotional insta- 
bility. A page or so later Dickens is revealed as a "victim of 
a manic-depressive cycle, and a very uncomfortable person/' 
It is certainly true that sweetness and perversity, beneficence 
and maliciousness, along with other dualisms, run through 
the novels. But we are not told what the extremes of Dick- 
ens's own personality and fictional creations have to do with 
his original wound, the traumatic experience of his child- 
hoodwhether, that is, there was one wound or two. The 
Kipling study, which is more consistent, also depends on a 
childhood trauma. Kipling and his sister were mistreated 
by an aunt with whom they lived for a number of years; 
Kipling was physically weak, had had very bad eyesight, was 
abused by his schoolmates, suffered a nervous breakdown 
which was accompanied by hallucinations, and so forth. As 
a young man he was caught between allegiance to the Eng- 
lish and to the Hindus. He solved his conflicts personally 
by siding outright with authority, with the strict schoolmas- 
ter, and with the imperialist. For all his gifts of imagination 
and craftsmanship, Kipling writes a fiction, especially after 
his initial successes, that lacks tension, fundamental con- 
flict "because Kipling would never face one." Wilson's the- 
sis sounds plausible in that it explains not only Kipling's 
wound but what was wrong with his bow! The essay on 


Edith Wharton almost falls outside the plan of the book. 
Her nervous breakdown early in her marriage is mentioned, 
but she is treated merely as the historian of her own world. 
She "is a brilliant example of the writer who relieves an 
emotional strain by denouncing his generation/' Her rela- 
tionship with Walter Berry and her conflicts between love 
and marital obligation (this is suggested by her fiction), 
which a wound-and-bow theory invites, are not discussed. 
Sensitivity to suffering, a kind of masochism, as well as a 
general exhilaration with physical well-being, seems to be 
the key to Wilson's discussion of Hemingway. There are a 
number of shrewd observations in the essay, but the thesis 
is not probed and developed with any care. The piece on 
Finnegans Wake, ''The Dream of H. C. Earwicker," does 
not attempt to psychoanalyze Joyce. It calls attention to the 
Freudian themes and furnishes, especially considering that 
it appeared shortly after the book, an able general account 
of its subject and method. 

The final chapter of The Wound and the Bow is an ex- 
amination of the Philoctetes myth as a figurative expression 
of the theory that the suffering and neurosis of the artist are 
the cause and subject matter of his art. Philoctetes's sup- 
purating wound makes him offensive and he is exiled, but 
he has a bow that never misses its mark. Only Philoctetes 
can use the bow. Before there can be art there must be the 
suffering artist. Philoctetes, after being accepted by his fel- 
lows, is eventually cured. He retains the bow and with it 
serves his people. 

D. H. Lawrence said that a writer "sheds his sickness" in 
his books. Freud, in his early work at least, believed the 
artist serves the pleasure principle by creating fantasies. 
And Adler was sure that all artists suffer from a sense of 
inferiority. There is obviously something to the theory, if 


only that artists, like anyone else, will write about what in- 
terests them, and that, being sensitive, they will suffer per- 
haps more often or more intensely than their fellows. Yet 
not all neurotics are artists, and there must be many artists 
who are not especially troubled by their own or the world's 

Even if accepted in its broad outlines, the Philoctetes 
myth has certain limitations. For example, the bow (his art) 
continues its effectiveness after the wound of Philoctetes is 
healed, and he had had the bow before the wound. In the 
myth there seems to be no causal connection between the 
wound and the bow. And, as implied above, the presence 
of a wound does not assure the possession of a bow. 

Lionel Trilling's "Art and Neurosis," the fullest and most 
intelligent discussion of the entire question, suggests that 
the wound-and-bow theory, which implies mental illness, 
is misleading. "The reference to the artist's neurosis," he 
writes, "tells us something about the material on which the 
artist exercises his powers, and even something about his 
reasons for bringing his powers into play, but it does not 
tell us anything about the source of his power, it makes no 
causal connection between them." Then Trilling makes 
this significant point: There "is in fact no causal connection 
between them. For, still granting that the poet is uniquely 
neurotic, what is surely not neurotic, what indeed suggests 
nothing but health, is his power of using his neuroticism. 
He shapes his fantasies, he gives them social form and refer- 
ence." Following Freud, Trilling points out that everyone, 
including the non-artist and the half artist, has neurotic 
symptoms. Therefore, neurosis "cannot uniquely account 
for genius." Finally, he objects to the conception of the neu- 
rosis as a wound because it suggests passivity rather than a 


conflict, which leads to control of or coming to terms with 
whatever is causing the conflict. 4 

Wilson's "The Ambiguity of Henry James" in The Tri- 
ple Thinkers has begotten a little library of criticism de- 
voted to The Turn of the Screw. 5 Edna Kenton first sug- 
gested that it is not the children but the governess who is 
haunted by the ghosts, but Wilson much more explicitly 
made her "a neurotic case of sex repression," tabulated the 
Freudian symbols, and tried to establish that the story can 
be read either as a ghost story or as the story of a neu- 
rotic governess with hallucinations. Mark Van Doren, Al- 
len Tate, land others have disagreed with the Freudian in- 
terpretation, and Robert Heilman's "The Turn of the 
Screw as Poem" 6 attempts to show that the meanings im- 
bedded in the imagery of the narrative establish it as a ghost 
story concerned with the conflict of good and evil. Wilson 
himself subsequently decided that the Freudian analysis is 
at least dubious, but two other critics, Leon Edel, who 
edited Ghostly Tales of Henry James (1948), and Matthies- 
sen in American Renaissance incline toward the belief that 
James was deliberately Wilson thought it unintentionally 
ambiguous. Edel points out that James probably knew a 
good deal about the psychical researches of J. M. Charcot 
and of his own brother William; that all the changes of 
phrases in the New York edition are from the governess's 

4 A number of articles have been written about this subject, among them 
these: W. H. Auden, "Psychology and Art Today," The Arts Today, ed. 
Geoffrey Grigson (London, John Lane, 1935); R. G. Davis, "Art and Anx- 
iety," Partisan Review, XII (Summer 1945), 310-21; William Barrett, "Writ- 
ers and Madness," Partisan Review, XIV (Winter 1947), 5-22. 

6 For a list of these articles, see Glenn A. Reed, "Another Turn on 
James's 'The Turn of the Screw,' " American Literature, XX (January 1949), 

6 Forms of Modern Fiction, ed. William Van O'Connor (Minneapolis, 
Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1948). 


reporting to feeling, not what she observed but what she 
felt; and that James published the story with The Aspern 
Papers, a story of curiosity that becomes a mania, and The 
Liar, about a pathological liar. As evidence of the deliberate 
ambiguity Matthiessen quoted this sentence from the Pref- 
ace: "Make [the reader] think the evil, make him think it 
for himself, and you are released from weak specifications/' 
Even though one may not be able to establish the legitimacy 
of the psychological interpretation with any conclusiveness, 
it teases the reader's mind and enriches the story. 

Despite all the general interest in the method, the number 
of good psychoanalytical essays is relatively small. Among 
these is the excellent "Prince Hal's Conflict" by Ernst Kris, 7 
a good piece on Stendhal by William Troy, 8 a highly per- 
ceptive study of James, "The Ghost of Henry James," by 
Saul Rosenzweig, 9 and a study of the early poems of Yeats, 
"A Psychoanalytical Study," by M. I. Seiden. 10 One of the 
few books consistently employing a psychoanalytical method 
is Roy Basler's Sex, Psychology and Literature (1948). 

Basler's book is a little more modest in tone than are most 
such studies. He sees Freudian psychology as "a key," not 
"the key," to a critical understanding of literature, and 
he examines only poems which invite such treatment. He 
makes explicit the nature of Christabel's sexual enchant- 
ment with Geraldine, gives a fairly detailed account of the 
psychosis of the hero of Tennyson's Maud, makes clear that 

^ Psychoanalytic Quarterly, XVII (October 1948), 489-506. 

8 Partisan Review, IX (January-February 1942), 3-22. 

9 Partisan Review, XI (Fall 1944), 436-55. 
W Accent, VI (Spring 1946), 178-90. 


Poe was preoccupied with the idee fixe as a persistent theme, 
and does a convincing analysis of Prufrock as a man desirous 
of living in his precious dreamworld. The latter is probably 
the best of his studies. Nor does Easier attempt to psycho- 
analyze the poets. He restricts attention to the literary works 

The Demon Lover (1949) by Arthur Wormhoudt seems 
almost a parody of the psychoanalytical method. The thesis 
derives from the "breast complex" theory of Edmund Berg- 
ler, who subsequently published The Writer and Psycho- 
analysis (1950). Words and milk are said to become identi- 
fied by the infant because "oral and gustatory sensations'* 
are confused by the gradually developing psyche, and so on. 
Eventually we are informed that the Muses are "pregenital 
mother symbols/' the mountains breast symbols, and the 
springs are milk which issues from the breast. Such un- 
checked fancy makes the medieval bestiary writers seem 
lacking in ingenuity. The oracular tone of Bergler and the 
bland assurance of Wormhoudt that he is serving objective 
fact are almost frightening. The kind and degree of their 
excesses are undoubtedly rare; but the psychoanalytical crit- 
ics appear to be especially susceptible to an egregious self- 

The study of the anxieties and neuroses as well as the 
complex symbolism in Franz Kafka's fiction obviously in- 
vites psychoanalytical interpretations. A volume such as 
The Kafka Problem (1946), edited by Angel Flores, con- 
tains interpretations which account in a convincing way for 
what would otherwise remain obscure and difficult. Inevita- 
bly, however, certain critics become rigorously orthodox, 
working out a one-to-one relationship between Freudian 
symbols and each element in a story. Charles Neider in The 
Frozen Sea (1948), for example, flatly denies the presence of 


any religious symbolism in Kafka's work and proceeds with 
a strictly Freudian interpretation. To take one quotation: 

A castle, like village, town, citadel and fortress, is a symbol 
of woman and mother. A count is a father symbol, like emperor, 
king and president. The count's permission is necessary for K. to 
enter the castle; i.e., the father's permission is necessary for the 
son to possess his mother incestuously. Land too is a symbol of 
woman and mother, as indicated by the expression "mother 
earth." A land surveyor is therefore one who measures the 
mother the incestuous implication is obvious. . . . 

Such a rigorous account assumes, first, that the Freudian 
hypotheses are invariably correct and, second, that Kafka, 
accepting them entirely, deliberately employed the appro- 
priate symbolism down to its last detail. On the other hand, 
when the critic is not rigid but capable, as Kenneth Burke 
is, of grasping and applying the complexities of Freud's view 
of the mind, there is danger of deviousness and of gratuitous 
ingenuity. For example, Burke's preoccupation with Cole- 
ridge's sense of guilt causes him to see the Pilot's boy in 
The Ancient Mariner "as a scapegoat for the poet alone," 
a "vessel for drawing off the most malign aspects of the 
curse that afflicts the 'greybeard loon.' " This identification, 
Burke continues, enabled him to understand the phrase 
"silly buckets," which has been variously interpreted. "The 
structure [of the poem] became more apparent: the 'loon' 
atic Mariner begins his cure from drought under the aegis 
of a moon that causes a silly rain, thence by synecdoche to 
silly buckets, and the most malignant features of this prob- 
lematic cure are transferred to the Pilot's boy who doth crazy 
go." But the phrase can be accounted for easily enough in 
its context without worrying the problem in such fashion. 

The influence of psychoanalysis on literature has been 
very great. In Freud, Jung, and others, writers in the ro- 
mantic tradition found a sanction for their concern with the 


hidden elements in the human mind, confused motives, 
perversity, and rationalizations. The novel and poetry have 
learned how to treat receding consciousness, to investigate 
the ways of association, the ambiguities of language, and to 
see the work of art as in some ways analogous to the dream. 
Certain writers have gone even further and accepted and 
used some of the more debatable theoriesthe Oedipus 
complex, the search for the father, retreat to childhood and 
the womb, or the images and symbols held to be primordial 
in the collective unconscious. William York Tindall, for in- 
stance, has pointed out the specific indebtednesses of Joyce 
to Freud and also suggested that D. H. Lawrence employed 
the primitive myths and symbols of Quetzalcoatl in The 
Plumed Serpent after reading Jung. Even when writers are 
not consciously indebted to specific works in psychoanalysis 
they are likely to have a secondhand or cultural indebted- 
ness for the obvious reason that such concepts and terms as 
compulsion, neuroticism, complex, repression, and libido 
have become current and have won general acceptance. 

Gestalt psychology has, for the most part, been a periph- 
eral concern. One of the few critics who have referred 
to it is Herbert J. Muller, who has called it a "congenial 
psychology" for students of literature. In Modern Fiction 
0937) h e related it to impressionists like Lawrence and 
Virginia Woolf, pointing out that in Mrs. Dalloway, for ex- 
ample, the latter "stressed all the disorderly particulars, the 
discontinuous 'quanta' of experience, that had been blurred 
by the generalizations of the realist" school. Gestalt psy- 
chology, Muller says in his fuller account in Science and 
Criticism (1943), helps to restore the prestige of concrete, 
immediate sense experience. The phenomena with which 
the artist deals correspond with the "kind of reality con- 
ceived by scientists today." If this psychology, however, en- 
courages us to grasp the work as a whole in its "spread and 


pervasion of meaning" it should also warn us against ab- 
stracting properties the didactic, the grotesque, or the ro- 
manticand insisting on them as invariables. Muller also 
says that an unsympathetic view of the wholeness of a writ- 
er's work can "raise havoc with excessive writers like Dos- 
toyevsky, Lawrence, Proust." Their excesses are often in- 
separable from their peculiar strength. 

Susanne Langer in Philosophy in a New Key (1942) 
pointed out that Gestalt psychology explains the why of art 
expression and thereby makes untenable the assumption 
that a poem or piece of fiction has philosophical significance 
only when adequately paraphrased. Import is implicit in 
the particular form, "the way the assertion is made, and this 
involves the sound, the tempo, the aura of associations of 
the words, the long or short sequences of ideas, the wealth 
or poverty of transient imagery that contains them, the sud- 
dent arrest of fantasy by pure fact, or of familiar fact by 
sudden fantasy, the suspense of literal meaning by a sus- 
tained ambiguity resolved by a long-awaited key word, and 
the unifying, all-embracing artifice of rhythm." 

Jung's concern with a "collective unconscious" bearing 
within it recurrent images (for example, devils, heroes, and 
gods), and archetypal patterns (guilt and expiation) has 
helped to furnish literary criticism with an even larger 
framework of psychoanalytical theory. Maud Bodkin in 
Archetypal Patterns in Poetry explained that while she ac- 
cepts most of Freud's theories she feels that "the concen- 
tration of Freudian writers upon the physical relation of 
parent and child cuts off [an] equally valid viewpoint," 
namely, the tremendous influence upon the child or indi- 
vidual of "the community and the stored achievement." In 
other words Miss Bodkin would study mythical patterns in 
literature. Earlier, of course, there had been Jessie Weston's 


influential From Ritual to Romance (1920), a work in- 
debted to English anthropological studies. American criti- 
cism has been much slower and much more tentative about 
such borrowings. 

William Troy and Francis Fergusson were among the 
first to perceive that valuable critical insights might lie in 
a study of ritual and myth. Troy's articles and reviews have 
not been collected in book form, and therefore it is difficult 
to see clearly what the essentials of his position are. "The 
Lawrence Myth" 11 treats the phenomenon of the Lawrence 
cult: "the persecutions and humiliations, the journeys by 
water, the agonies in the wilderness, the betrayals and final 
apotheosis at the hands of his disciples/* Troy is concerned 
with the view Lawrence took of himself as the "reincarna- 
tion of the dying god," of Dionysius, and of the effect it had 
upon his art; Lawrence would not bring his emotions and 
his beliefs to rest in aesthetic form because: "As soon as I 
have finished a mental conception, a full idea even of my- 
self, then dynamically I am dead." "Lawrence spent his en- 
tire career combatting what he believed was a undue stress 
[on scientific rationalism] at the expense of the animal na- 
ture in man." And the resulting myth has objective value. 
"Thomas Mann: Myth and Reason" 12 gives a detailed and 
convincing reading of Death in Venice as initiation rit- 
ual and the Joseph novels as a complex social myth. "To 
Mann," Troy says, "must be credited the abundantly fer- 
tile suggestion that only in the myth do we get the dialecti- 
cal process working itself out on the whole ground of human 
reality. In the myth the interplay is between the construc- 
tions of the mind and the immediate presentation of experi- 
ence at any given moment of history, between the principle 

11 Partisan Review, IV (January 1938), 3-13. 

12 Partisan Review, V (June 1938), 24-32. 


of form and the principle of life." Troy has written in some- 
what similar terms about the fiction of James, Joyce, and 

Francis Fergusson in The Idea of the Theater (1949), 
which may well be the best volume of drama criticism pub- 
lished in its generation, has studied Oedipus the King as 
ritual drama and has commented on ritualistic elements in 
Hamlet and other plays. Ritual and myth as parts of the 
meaningful structure of a drama are considered throughout 
the volume but probably nowhere more effectively than in 
the chapter on Hamlet, where an account of the rituals helps 
to demonstrate the nature of the play's unity and to avoid 
the various reductive theories which lead to the conclusion 
that the play is a failure structurally. 

Philip Wheelwright and Mark Schorer have also written 
instructive essays on myth. Wheelwright's "Poetry, Myth 
and Reality" in The Language of Poetry (1942) regards the 
loss of myth as the "most devastating loss humanity can 
suffer." Myth consciousness, he argues, "is the bond that 
unites men both with one another and with the unplumbed 
Mystery from which mankind is sprung and without refer- 
ence to which the radical significance of things goes to pot." 
Schorer's essay, a chapter in William Blake (1946), makes 
clear the dependence of the poet on myth: "The myths of 
one age are better than those of another; that is, some myths 
include more of the total experience of a culture than 
others, and in the great ages, ages of amplitude and spacious- 
ness, they include everything. Then poetry attains its full 
stature: its vitality is not lessened by shifts of sensibility, 
because it has achieved density, strata of various meaning." 
Cleanth Brooks had treated this subject, in a somewhat nar- 
rower focus, in his chapter on Yeats in Modern Poetry and 
the Tradition (1939). These essays clarify the problem of 


belief in relation to poetry as well as telling us a good deal 
about the general character of English poetry in its vari- 
ous periods. There are also many suggestive comments and 
insights about myth during the Enlightenment in Louise 
Bogan's "The Secular Hell," printed in Chimera (Spring 
1946), the issue in which Troy, Jacques Barzun, Joseph 
Campbell, and others discussed myth. Campbell's essay dis- 
cusses Finnegans Wake, relating it to Freud and Jung, as 
"symbolic archetypes of mythology and metaphysics, famil- 
iar to mankind for milleniums and throughout the world." 
One's sense of the nature of myth and the comic grandeur 
of Joyce's imagination are greatly enlarged by the essay. 

Richard Chase in articles, a book on Melville, and espe- 
cially in Quest for Myth (1949) holds that "myth is only 
art," a certain kind of literature, and is therefore incompe- 
tent to perform the duties of science and philosophy. He 
does not believe there ever was a "mythopoeic age," and he 
deplores the attempt to make myth autonomous, a "religion 
without calling it a religion." Myth cannot enable us to 
perceive reality as the rational objectivity of the mind per- 
ceives it. Myth does not belong with the intellectual, the 
scientific disciplines of history, anthropology, psychoanaly- 
sis, and philosophy. Chase seems to be saying that myth is an 
imaginative statement which evokes a sense of the uncanny 
and portentous in "the crises of birth, infancy, initiation, 
marriage, death and so on." The marriage of Charles and 
Emma Bovary is not mythical, but Edmund Spenser's Pro- 
thalamion and John Donne's Epithalamion are. "And they 
are mythical because they contain epiphanies of the Un- 
canny." Chase, quite understandably, does not want the 
hard-won methods of the objective disciplines to be relaxed. 
But he does not face the issue that the "uncanny" element 
is partly the result of coming to terms with the "crisis," con- 


trolling mysterious forces by imagining) asserting, and ac- 
cepting a way of belief or action. Spenser and Donne, with 
the strength of a complex body of Christian tradition be- 
hind them, assert the beauty, loveliness, and sanctity of mar- 
riage. The symbols, the rhythms, and the drama of the two 
poems give the assertion its luminous quality, its "epiph- 
anies of the Uncanny. " The rational disciplines can be em- 
ployed to criticize the weight of the assertion, to modify it. 
They cannot, unless we are to have a science of the imagina- 
tion and perhaps not even then, supersede the myth itself. 

Valuable as these various studies of myth have been, they 
rarely give the reader a sense of completed, rounded knowl- 
edge. Even those works written by the anthropologists and 
professional students of myth seem in part elusive and tenu- 
ous. Perhaps the difficulty, as Joyce said of his own fiction, is 
not in the author's thought but is inherent in the subject. 
This seems to be true of psychological theory generally. 
Despite the relevance of psychological theory to literature, 
literary criticism with a psychological or psychoanalytical 
emphasis has not been conspicuously successful. 13 

Quite possibly one of the reasons for the paucity of good 
studies is that few critics ever get beyond the amateur 
stage in their knowledge of psychoanalysis. 14 Psychoanalysts- 
turned-critic, on the other hand, are too often insensitive to 

13 This is as true of English as it is of American criticism. I. A. Richards 
once attempted to treat the poem as though it were a complicated mecha- 
nism with the function of arousing psychological states and bringing them 
to rest. Even with the presence of diagrams and the scientific air of the 
discussion, little or nothing came from this part of his criticism. Herbert 
Read wrote a fairly interesting account of the dream element in one of his 
own poems, and William Empson interpreted Alice's trip into Wonderland 
as a Freudian dream. It may be that his knowledge of Freudian theory had 
earlier helped Empson, as well as Robert Graves and Laura Riding before 
him, to hit upon the phenomenon of ambiguity. 

14 Three recent critical biographies depend on the psychoanalytical meth- 
od. They are: John Berryman's Stephen Crane, Newton Arvin's Herman 
Melville, and Irving Howe's Sherwood Anderson. 


aesthetic and literary values and are inclined to treat imagi- 
native characters, who "live" only in relation to the theme, 
plot, and other characters, as though they were actual case 
studies. There is also a tendency in psychoanalytical criti- 
cism to make the writer a passive agent, to overemphasize 
the part played by his unconscious. Too often a novelist's 
characters are seen as swarming in a ready-made fantasy, or 
the poet's lines are seen as coming to him almost as auto- 
matic writing. We have already observed the tendency of 
psychoanalytical biographers to equate a literary work with 
the psychological hurt (or wound) of the author as well as to 
state its meaning solely in psychological terms. Frederick 
J. Hoffman in "Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism" 15 
warns that the critic "certainly ought not to think of art 
in terms of neurosis; in so doing he is confusing genesis with 
the work itself, or considering the work as justified only in 
terms of the circumstances in which it was produced." 

Modern literature is intimately related, directly and in- 
directly, to modern psychological movements. Freud, as 
Trilling has pointed out, "has not merely naturalized 
poetry; he has discovered its status as a pioneer settler and 
he sees it as a method of thought." Freud's principles are 
broad, "clearly in the line of ... classic tragic realism." 
Again, Gestalt psychology has helped us to see that litera- 
ture has its own mode of discourse. Lastly, Jung and other 
students of myth have told us a good deal about the nature 
of "meaning" in literature. When the critic respects his own 
task, literary criticism, he is free to draw upon this impres- 
sive body of knowledge and theory. 

15 American Quarterly, II (Summer 1950), 144-54. 



seen, believing that the concept of evolution would make 
for a new critical method, had spoken about a new criti- 
cism around the turn of the century; Joel Spingarn, finding 
Croce's doctrine of expressive form equally promising, had 
written "The New Criticism" in 1910. But the term "new 
criticism" as used more recently derives from John Crowe 
Ransom's The New Criticism (1941), a volume in which he 
discusses I. A. Richards, William Empson, T. S. Eliot, Yvor 
Winters, and a few other critics. The characteristic com- 
mon to all these latter critics is intensive analysis of the 
literary work. A designation more useful than "new criti- 
cism" would be "analytical criticism." 1 

1 No relatively brief discussion of this criticism can take into account the 
many and divergent lines of inquiry which one or another of its practitioners 
has investigated. Because the bulk of contemporary criticism is so great. 


In William Elton's A Glossary of the New Criticism 
(1948) there is a lineal table of contemporary criticism list- 
ing Pound, Eliot, and the Southern Regionalists in direct 
descent from Coleridge; and Richards, Burke, and Empson 
in direct descent from Jeremy Bentham. There are also 
collateral influences, with the British critics Richards (who 
is also indebted to Coleridge) and Empson influencing 
Brooks and Warren, and Yvor Winters being at once in 
the debt of Burke and Eliot. But if one remembers that 
John Stuart Mill called Coleridge and Bentham the two 
seminal minds of the nineteenth century, the table, al- 
though interesting, merely implies that contemporary criti- 
cism is involved in the philosophical, sociological, psycho- 
logical, and aesthetic currents of its time. 

The interests of T. E. Hulme, who is commonly held 
to have influenced Pound, 2 Eliot, and others in the years 
immediately prior to World War I, may be taken as rep- 
resentative. In his Speculations, published posthumously, 
there are dicta, sometimes worked out, sometimes not, about 
scientism, romanticism, the structure of poetry, and the 
need for a system of religious values. Hulme discussed the 
breakup of religious belief and the awful burden thereby 
th/own on the individual poet to establish not only his own 
scale of values but the vehicles for giving them literary ex- 
pression. He attempted to define the contemporary sensi- 
bility and to help "make conscious the 'standards' " in it. 
Like many another critic, Hulme was concerned with the 

there are many works which must be left out of the present discussion, which 
is concerned to point out merely the dominant lines and influential texts. It 
is also necessary to introduce such British critics as Hulme, Richards, and 
Empson. The bibliographies appended to M. D. Zabel's Literary Opinion in 
America and to Robert Stallman's Critiques, anthologies of contemporary 
criticism, list hundreds of articles and books. 

2 For Hulme's influence on Pound, see the la tier's Pavannes and Divisions. 


way cultural developments are manifest in language and 
literary forms. 

I. A. Richards, whose Principles of Literary Criticism 
(1924) was equally influential with Eliot's The Sacred Wood 
(1920), has been greatly concerned with the role of litera- 
ture in a scientific-minded world. In Science and Poetry 
(1926) he discussed as pseudo statements those statements 
which are not verifiable in scientific terms but which satisfy 
our emotional needs. Poetic statements were useful but not 
true. The later Richards of Coleridge on the Imagination 
(1935) and Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936) got away from 
the notion that poetry although valuable in ordering our 
minds is irrelevant to the real world. In the volume on Cole- 
ridge he says, (< Poetry is the completest mode of utterance." 
He places poetic language in the realm of myth, with no 
such pejorative connotations as those clinging to the term 
"pseudo." Myths, he adds, "are those hard realities in pro- 
jection, their symbolic recognition, coordination and ac- 
ceptance. . . . Without his mythologies man is only a cruel 
animal without a soul ... a congeries of possibilities with- 
out order or aim/' 


Eliot too, of course, has been preoccupied with literature 
in relation to its own generation and the generations pre- 
ceding it. His first book, The Sacred Wood, ended for many, 
particularly for younger readers, the era of Victorian liter- 
ary standards. He became a symbol of an intellectual criti- 
cism that drew on the scholarship of various fields as well as 
a knowledge of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Italian, and French. 
For many years he was the leader of the younger genera- 
tion, ignored by those whose tastes had been formed before 


World War I and occasionally attacked by those who mis- 
understood the pessimism of The Waste Land, as well as 
by those who disapproved of his growing religious interests, 
his politics, or his unsettling of Victorian literary standards. 
Recently the controversies have been less heated, but his. 
work continues to be studied and to be influential. 

Writing the Preface in 1928 for a new edition of The 
Sacred Wood, Eliot stated that the volume had as its center 
"the integrity of poetry" and that he was much indebted 
to Rmy de Gourmont. In the volume appear "Tradition 
and the Individual Talent" (which epitomizes many of the 
themes that run through his work), pieces on the art of 
criticism, as well as brief studies of Dante, Marlowe, Shake- 
speare, Jonson, Massinger, Blake, Swinburne, and others. 
Many of the subjects which recur in his later work are here: 
the objective correlative, the impersonal nature of art, the 
need for a sense of history, a pointing to the most usable 
parts of the literature of the past, and the meaning of tra- 
dition. 3 

Homage to John Dry den (1924), which included essays* 
on Marvell, the metaphysical poets, and Dryden, established 
even more clearly Eliot's belief that the most usable part 
of the English literary tradition was the literature of the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Subsequently it has be- 
come evident that Eliot's criticism was not entirely, in Ar- 
nold's sense, disinterested. His discovery of certain poets 
and his comments about them were grisit for himself as a 
working poet. There are immediately evident connections 
between statements in "The Metaphysical Poets" and his 
own practice in The Waste Land. There are connections 

8 For these and other terms and questions discussed by Eliot, see Robert 
W. Stallman's The Critic's Notebook (Minneapolis, Univ. of Minnesota Press,. 


between "Song for Simeon/' "Journey of the Magi," as well 
as "Gerontion" and the title essay in For Lancelot Andrewes 
(1928). And there are connections between Dante (1929) 
and Ash Wednesday. In his Milton lecture, delivered sev- 
eral times in the United States in 1947 and published in 
Sewanee Review, Eliot explained his earlier playing-up of 
the metaphysicals and playing-down of Milton. In the 1920*5 
one of the principles stressed by Pound and Eliot was that 
poetry should have the virtues of prose, that "the subject- 
matter and the imagery of poetry should be extended to 
objects related to the life of a modern man or woman." In 
neither respect would the study of Milton have helped their 
contemporaries. Eliot concluded the lecture by saying, "it 
now seems to me that poets are sufficiently removed from 
Milton, and sufficiently liberated from his reputation, to 
approach the study of his work without danger, and with 
profit to their poetry and to the English language." In "The 
Function of Criticism" in The Sacred Wood, Eliot stated 
that "the poetic critic is criticizing poetry in order to create 
poetry." In other words, Eliot's earlier criticism records the 
growth of his own mind and the development of his sensi- 
b\lity at the same time that it records the direction of one 
of the most significant lines of development in modern 
poetry and criticism. 

The method of his criticism is less easy to characterize. 
First and foremost, he requires the co-operation of his 
reader. He analyzes and compares. Quite often Eliot's own 
comments, in a restricted and transparent style, simply pre- 
pare the reader for a long quotation. The reader is obliged 
to engage himself with the passage in order to relate it to 
what Eliot has said. That this is his intention seems to be 
indicated in another sentence from "The Function of Criti- 
cism": "In matters of great importance the critic must not 


coerce and he must not make judgements of worse and of 
better. He must simply elucidate: the reader will form the 
correct judgement for himself/* The occasionally cryptic 
expressions, according to his own statement in Homage to 
John Dryden, are intentional. Certain notions presented as 
cryptograms would, if expressed directly, "be destined to 
immediate obloquy, followed by perpetual oblivion." He 
generally uses a historical method, not in the sense of estab- 
lishing the milieu of a given work but by drawing upon 
poems of various periods in order to distinguish the char- 
acter as well as the level of excellence of the given work. In 
his later criticism, as in The Use of Poetry and the Use of 
Criticism (1933) and After Strange Gods (1934), he is likely 
to be closer to the method of Arnold than to an aesthetic 
emphasis or an analytical method. 

Arnold, of course, was preoccupied with the culture of 
Victorian England and tended to see literary works as they 
related to it. He was able to perceive many of the qualities 
that differentiated one writer from another, but he rarely 
discussed these differences in other than moral, social, or 
cultural terms. Samuel Johnson, on the other hand, was 
much more likely to focus attention not only on moral earn- 
estness but also on metaphor, diction, metrics, and so forth 
in other words, on form. But it is probably Samuel Taylor 
Coleridge who furnishes the most characteristic example 
of the method and considerations which recur in the new 
criticism, especially in the study of "Venus and Adonis" in 
Biographia Literaria. He treats of imagination as it relates 
to versification and the ability to reduce a multitude of 


feelir/gs to their proper proportion in relation to the total 
unitf of the work; dissociation of the literary work from its 
origins in the writer's own life, so that the work, as Eliot 
has demanded, lives impersonally and with its own kind of 
wholeness; dramatization, or as James would say, rendering 
not reporting; 4 union of "creative power and intellectual 
energy, " or as we say more commonly now, the union of 
thought and feeling; complexity in the sense that one per- 
ceives "the flux and reflux of the mind in all its subtlest 
thoughts" and in the sense that imagery, versification, tone, 
and other things contribute in the most minute ways to the 
dominant feeling and thematic lines unifying th work. 

Richards and Hulme are both indebted to Coleridge. So 
too are later critics like Herbert Read and Kenneth Burke. 
In fact, Coleridge is so much a part of the preconceptions in 
contemporary criticism that there is probably no critic who 
is not greatly in his debt. In this sense, then, the new criti- 
cism is not new it is a continuation of nineteenth-century 
English criticism. It is undoubtedly more intensive than 
Coleridge p. And it is undoubtedly new in that it borrows 
from contemporary anthropology, philosophy, and psychol- 
ogyjust as Coleridge borrowed from German philosophy. 
However, it is hardly just to consider contemporary crit- 
ics members of a literary guild. One might think of T. S. 
Eliot (at least in his earlier work), William Empson, R. P. 
Blackmur, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and John 
Crowe Ransom as being in agreement about most of their 
critical standards. Undoubtedly there is a considerable body 
of agreement among them, but anyone reading through 
Ransom's The New Criticism will also be struck by the 
extent of their disagreements. Ransom's theory, most neatly 

4 In praising "Venus and Adonis," Coleridge said, "You seem to be told 
nothing but to see and hear everything." 


expressed in "Criticism as Pure Speculation/' 5 that much of 
the concrete detail of the poem is to be looked upon as in- 
teresting and pleasant in its own right but irrelevant to the 
logical or prose meaning of the poem, is not evident in the 
work of these other critics; some of them are explicitly in 
disagreement with it. The Anatomy of Nonsense (1943) of- 
fers abundant evidence that Yvor Winters is in very consid- 
erable disagreement not merely with Ransom's theory but 
with that of most of their contemporaries. 

A simple way of demonstrating the diversity in method 
among contemporary critics is to compare the work of R. P. 
Blackmur and Kenneth Burke. Blackmur's criticism is ec- 
lectic, indebted to Eliot, Richards, Empson, Burke, and 
others and is perhaps impossible to label easily. Like James, 
whose prefaces he has edited, he has insisted on the high 
value of art. And, as witness his work in The Double Agent 
(1935) and The Expense of Greatness (1940), he has insisted 
on arduous labor in criticism. He wants the critic * 'con- 
stantly to be confronted with examples of poetry" for the 
practical purpose of helping readers to understand its mean- 
ing and value. In explicating a poem by Wallace Stevens or 
Hart Crane he explores all possible meanings in a word in 
terms of its content. Ransom opens his account of The New 
Criticism by presenting Blackmur's analysis of a poem by 
Emily Dickinson as a distinguished example of the illumi- 
nation possible as the result of close and imaginative read- 
ing. Blackmur's readings are usually detailed and subtle, 
but too often his prose is unnecessarily contorted and diffi- 
cult. In staying close to the specific work of literature or to 
the work of a specific writer, Blackmur typifies the practice 
of many contemporary critics. Burke, on the other hand, is 

5 The Intent of the Critic, ed. Donald Stauffer (Princeton, N. J., Prince- 
ton Univ. Press, 1941). 


more characteristic of the movement in its liking for critical 

In his later books like A Grammar of Motives (1945) and 
A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Burke is a theoretician of a 
kind almost unique among literary critics. Aside from what- 
ever values Burke's "dramatism," as he calls his generating 
principle, may have in settling or precluding the quarrels 
between the positivist-minded and their critics over the 
claims of poetry or the other arts to be called "knowledge," 
his critical observations are usually shrewd and sometimes 
transferable to other contexts. In "Musicality in Verse" 
from Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), for instance, 
he says there is a "concealed alliteration" in Coleridge's 
"bathed by the mist" because b and b are "close phonetic 
relatives" of m. " 'B-b-the-b-' would be blunt. But in de- 
flecting the third member from a b to an m, the poet retains 
the same phonetic theme, while giving us a variation upon 
the theme." In "Caldwell: Maker of Grotesques," from the 
same volume, Burke furnishes clues that plausibly explain 
some of the effects Caldwell frequently manages. Caldwell's 
characters, Burke says, are to real people as deracinated 
frogs are to whole frogs. What they lack in humanity the 
reader supplies. "When the starved grandmother in To- 
bacco Road lies dying, with her face on the ground into 
the soil, and no one shows even an onlooker's interest in 
her wretchedness, we are prodded to anguish. When these 
automata show some bare inkling of sociality, it may seem 
like a flash of ultimate wisdom." With this as a beginning, 
one could read much of Caldwell with an increased critical 
awareness. Burke is hard reading for the most part, however, 
because he is working out, as he says, a "theory of the criti- 
cism of books (a theory that should be applicable, mutatis 


mutandis, to any specific cases)." When he has completed 
his work, much that now appears scattered and piecemeal 
will probably be more coherent and readily useful. 

Such differences in belief and method could be docu- 
mented at length. On the other hand, it should be noted 
that most contemporary critics do attempt to analyze the 
literary work carefully and in detail. Despite the varying 
approaches implied by a critic's emphasis on texture, ten- 
sion, ambiguity, expressive form, pseudo reference, para- 
dox, irony, or other such terms, 6 each critic is attempting 
to establish a body of definable criteria. Each is concerned 
with developing useful terms and techniques so that the 
reader may be able to explore the complex parts of the liter- 
ary work and to make some attempt to evaluate its worth. 

There has been a good deal of attention paid in recent 
years to what W. K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley, in a 
widely read article, called "the intentional fallacy." The 
general point is that critical inquiries about the meaning of 
a poem are not to be settled by consulting the intention of 
the author. (The British critic C. S. Lewis in The Personal 
Heresy disagreed with E. M. W. Tillyard's contention in 
Milton that Paradise Lost is about the state of Milton's mind 
when the poem was written. Lewis says it is about Satan, the 
angels, and so forth. And he adds: "Every work of art that 
lasts long in the world is continually taking on ... colors 
which the artist neither foresaw nor intended.") In the final 
section of his essay on The Ancient Mariner, "A Poem of 
Pure Imagination: An Experiment in Reading" (1946), 
Robert Penn Warren has made a neat summary of most of 
the issues relevant to the problem of intention. The pri- 

6 See William Elton, A Glossary of the New Criticism (Modern Poetry 
Assoc., 1948). 


mary consideration, he concludes, is the criterion of "in- 
ternal consistency." 7 


Because of the concern of critics with literature as litera- 
ture, it was inevitable that there would be protests against 
centering the critical process in the antecedents or origins 
(the intentional fallacy) of the work as well as against cen- 
tering it in the psychological reactions or responses to it 
(the affective fallacy). Wimsatt and Beardsley define the af- 
fective fallacy as "a confusion between the poem and its 
results (what it is and what it does). ... It begins by trying 
to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological 
effects of the poem and ends in impressionism and rela- 
tivism." As a result, "the poem itself, as an object of spe- 
cifically critical judgement, tends to disappear." Examples 
of affective criticism are Emily Dickinson's remark that in 
reading genuine poetry she had the sensation that the top 
of her head was taken off and A. E. Housman's comment 
about feeling a shiver run down his spine when he recalled 
a good line of poetry. References to one's feelings in the 
presence of a literary work will indicate approval or dis- 
approval of some kind, but they are likely to be vague and 
untranslatable into cognitive terms. 

7 The problem of internal consistency is often raised in conjunction with 
the problem of multiple interpretations. For instance, in his analysis of The 
Tempest, Mark Van Doren makes these comments: " The Tempest does bind 
up in final form a host of themes with which the author has been concerned. 
. , . One interpretation of The Tempest does not agree with another. And 
there is a deeper trouble in the truth that any interpretation, even the 
wildest, is more or less plausible. . . . Any set of symbols, moved close to the 
play, lights up as in an electric field. Its meaning, in other words, is pre- 
cisely as rich as the human mind, and it says that the world is what it is. 
But what the world is cannot be said in a sentence. . . ." Obviously, not every 
play or poem is as rich in multiple meanings as The Tempest. Although it 
seems likely that a play or poem rich in meanings is likely to last a longer 
time, it does not seem necessary to add that the presence of multiple mean- 
ings, which could be fatuous and confused, is not an indisputable test of 
literary value. In other words, multiple meaning of itself is no test of great- 



Many contemporary critics also object to the old dichot- 
omy of content and form. Like the earlier proponents of 
organic form and expressive form they believe that if the 
writer alters his expression he has probably affected not 
merely the appropriateness of his manner or style but the 
actual meaning of what he has said. 

The dichotomy of content and form is seen as a Cartesian 
and Kantian inheritance. Meaning was commonly held to 
have a mind-body relationship; rhetorical figures were a 
dress put upon meaning, like the glove put on the hand. 
(The attempted divorce of meaning from matter, which 
was a part of the effort to achieve mathematical unfeeling 
or objectivity, is discussed in the new criticism usually as 
a part of the phenomenon labeled by T. S. Eliot the "dis- 
sociation of sensibility.") The concern with structure in the 
new criticism implies some degree of recognition that ab- 
straction emerges from matter. Walter J. Ong in "The 
Meaning of the 'New Criticism' " (1943) writes: "The un- 
derstanding is defective if it does not observe that, however 
they may be handled in mathematics and minor logic, the 
most abstract abstractions always come to us in ways which 
reflect their origins out of material existents. . . . Abstrac- 
tions cannot be preserved and packaged, but are known and 
used only as they are being drawn in some way or another 
out of matter." Form or structure is understood not as an 
envelope or even as a vehicle of the total meaning or total 
abstraction the writer has made available. As Yeats wrote 
in "Among School Children": 

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance 
How can we know the dancer from the dance? 


I. A. Richards was the first of the contemporary critics to 
address himself to the problem of "total meaning." 

In Practical Criticism (1929), Richards considers meter, 
diction, metaphor, and methods of organizing the poem 
not as ornaments but as parts of the total meaning. The 
poet's attitude toward his subject matter is, or should be, 
implicit in his meter (the use of the spondee, for example, 
to slow the metrical movement) and in his diction (the "Mis- 
ter Death" phrase in Cummings's poem on Buffalo Bill, for 
example, suggests the poet's attitude toward death in this 
particular context). The meter and the diction are among 
the factors that produce the tone. The method of organiz- 
ing the elements in the poem the incidental ironies, the 
juxtaposing of unlike elements, the bringing together of 
homogeneous elements, the use of alliteration, of internal 
rhyme, and so forth also contribute to its meaning. The 
employment of assonance, for example, can enable a poet to 
echo and stress a word he does not want to repeat explicitly. 
The interest in total meaning is related to the belief that, 
ideally, in literature there can be no true separation of 
form and content. 8 

Empson in Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) extended 
Richards's work by demonstrating that language tends to be 
highly connotative, or, in Wheelwright's term, "phAi-sig- 
nificant." The older preconception was that cognitive lan- 
guage implies simple denotation. But Empson took words 
like "rooky" from Macbeth and demonstrated that all of the 
meanings listed by the Arden editors were plausible. If they 
seemed plausible to the various editors they would have 
seemed plausible to the first-night audience and would have 

8 Tate in "Longinus" (Lectures in Criticism, 1949), however, writes: "The 
fusion of art and nature, of technique and subject, can never exceed the 
approximate; the margin of imperfection is always there-nature intractable 
to art, art unequal to nature." 


"seemed plausible to Shakespeare himself, since he was no 
less sensitive to words than they." (Ong quotes Hugh Blair, 
a late neoclassic rhetorician whose Lectures on Rhetoric 
was widely studied in the nineteenth century: "Simple ex- 
pression just makes our ideas known to others; but figura- 
tive language, over and above, bestows a particular dress 
upon that idea; a dress, which both makes it to be remarked 
and adorns it.'*) Empsoft, by showing that the new mean- 
ing (tenor) and metaphor (vehicle) interact, thereby sug- 
gesting a considerable number of meanings (abstractions), 
is showing that meanings have their origins in matter, in 
the concrete. Meaning is involved with structure or form 
down to the slightest connotation or suggestion. 9 

After Richards and Empson, criticism became much more 
conscious of the details which carry the meaning of a poem. 
In "Hardy's Philosophic Metaphors" (Reason in Madness, 
1941), for example, Tate criticizes "Nature's Questioning" 
on the ground that its structure, the metaphors, contradicts 
the working content Hardy's belief in a deistic unknow- 
able God. Hardy conceives a God who in one place is an 
automaton, in another an imbecile, but in still another a 
schoolmaster. "Even in the magnificent image of the 'God- 
head dying downwards' we get a certain degree of contra- 
diction between tenor and vehicle: in order to say that God 
has left the universe to chance after setting it in motion, 
Hardy can merely present us with the theistic God as blind 
and imbecile." To this Tate adds: "So generally of Hardy 

9 Critics like Ransom and Tate have stressed particularity or the concrete 
and insist on its value as a contribution to our knowledge. In myth and 
archetypal images, in our affective responses to color and image, and in the 
way our sensibilities are aroused by what Ransom has called "the world's 
body," they want to find evidence of the ways in which literature gives us a 
kind of knowledge with which science and philosophy are not concerned. 
See especially Ransom's "Criticism as Pure Speculation," The Intent of the 
Critic, and "The Literary Criticism of Aristotle," Lectures in Criticism, ed. 
Elliot Coleman (New York, Pantheon, 1949). 


it may perhaps be said that his 'philosophy' tends to be a 
little beyond the range of his feeling: his abstractions are 
thus somewhat irresponsible, since/ he rarely shows us the 
experience that ought to justify them, that would give them 
substance, visibility, meaning/' Similarly, Tate's analyses of 
verses by Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Thomson, and 
John Donne in ''Tension in Poetry" are examinations into 
patterns of coherent relationships between denotative and 
connotative meanings in poetry. 

The reader of The Well Wrought Urn (1947) will be 
able to observe that Cleanth Brooks also thinks of the poem 
as a structure or form in the sense indicated above. He justi- 
fies his use of "paradox" and "irony" as the most available 
terms to suggest the kinds or indirection and the kinds of 
qualification he has observed to be characteristic of the 
total statement (or structure) that composes the poem. To 
substitute a paraphrase, a simplified meaning, is to destroy 
a part of the ^micture and therefore a part of the meaning. 

Structure or form is also a key concept in the criticism of 
the novel. A novelist succeeds or fails in terms of his struc- 
ture. Mark Schorer in "Technique as Discovery" 10 says: 
"What we need in fiction is a devoted fidelity to every tech- 
nique which will help us discover and evaluate our subject 
matter, and more than that, to discover the amplifications 
of meaning of which our subject matter is capable." To 
take a specific instance, Robert Penn Warren's Introduc- 
tion to Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms has as its center 
the concept of an appropriate structure. He explains first 
what he calls the "characteristic Hemingway 'point* ": this 
includes comments on the initiates in Hemingway's God- 
abandoned world, the hard-bitten, disciplined men and 

10 Forms of Modern Fiction, cd. William Van O'Connor (Minneapolis, 
Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1948). 


women who savor not only drinking and sex but who have 
a sharp awareness of the physical world and of light and 
darkness. Drinking and sex are dramatized as forces that 
dull the sense of nada (death and the meaninglessness of 
the physical world), except that with love a margin of hu- 
man significance or meaning is achieved, and so forth. The 
successful Hemingway stories occur, Warren says, when "the 
essential limitations of his premises" have been accepted. 
The "failures occur when we feel that Hemingway has not 
respected the limitations of his premises." In the failures 
not merely the moral significance or judgment, which we 
expect ta be implied in the action, becomes blurred, but the 
characteristic irony and the simplified style sound empty 
and pretentious. Warren's focus, in other words, is on the 
structure of the stories. Joseph Warren Beach, R. P. Black- 
mur, M. D. Zabel, and comparable critics, we may assume, 
look to James and to Conrad, because in them they find 
artists who have learned how to inform/a given subject mat- 
ter with maximum resonance, meaning, and significance. 


An argument sometimes directed against such criticism 
is that by emphasizing form it fails to emphasize moral val- 
ues and other extra-aesthetic values (content). This argu- 
ment, again, is dependent upon the old assumption that 
form and content are readily separable. The analytical crit- 
ics might, in reply, point to their concern with synthesis, 
tension, irony, complexity, and inclusiveness, as opposed to 
the sentimental, the arbitrary, the merely asserted, and so 
forth. The maturity, as Henry James insisted, with which 
a moral or political view emerges\from the aesthetic form 
is dependent in part on how well, tiow impressively, and 


how vividly the view has been investigated and refracted 
through the aesthetic medium. The nature of literary form, 
demanding as it does stylization, that is, selection of detail, 
understatement, parody, or the manipulation of characters 
within a given concrete situation, precludes the possibility 
of its offering easy rules of thumb for moral, political, or 
social action. (It may develop that critical studies in the 
immediate future will furnish further studies of literary 
conventions and, more particularly, what is implied by the 
term "stylization.") In the final analysis, statements about 
the moral or philosophical elements in a literary work are 
made inside an aesthetic framework, in terms of the struc- 
ture that makes these elements available for discussion. 

Another argument directed against this criticism is that 
it is antihistorical and antibiographical. The argument 
probably oversimplifies the attitudes of most of the analyti- 
cal critics since they, as well as other students of literature, 
understand with Mine de Stael that there are reciprocal re- 
lationships between literature and a society's laws, man- 
ners, and religion, just as they understand the general sig- 
nificance of Taine's oversimplified statements about a work 
of art being the product of "race, milieu, and moment," or 
just as they understand, with Arnold and Sainte-Beuve, that 
a writer's work can often be better interpreted in the light 
of his personal life. Yet most of them would insist that his- 
torical studies can be, and frequently have been, carried on 
in such a fashion that they become almost divorced from 
any significant concern with the values of literature as lit- 
erature. They would also insist that scholarship divorced 
from an aesthetic criticism will fall into the genetic fallacy, 
will attempt to explain a piece of literature not in terms of 
what it is but in terms of its social or biographical origins. 

In their Theory of Literature (1949), Ren Wellek and 


Austin Warren have mediated these arguments by treating 
the poem, or literary work, as a thing in itself, as unique 
but also with characteristics common to its genre, and as 
having persistent as well as shifting meanings depending 
upon the audience and historical context in which it is 
read. "A poem, we have to conclude, is not an individual 
experience or a sum of experiences, but only a potential 
cause of experiences. . . . Thus the real poem must be con- 
ceived as a structure of norms, realized only partially in the 
actual experience of its many readers." They discuss the 
division of the literary work into such factors as sound, 
meaning; character, setting, and point of view, each factor 
having its subordinate considerations and each interrelated 
with the other factors. It is true, they admit, that each work 
of art has unique aspects, but to overstress uniqueness in- 
vites complete critical relativism and an indifference to the 
similarities and common elements that would make it pos- 
sible to discuss not merely genre but literature in general. 
"The work of art, then, appears as an object of knowledge 
sui generis. . . ." Wellek and Warren admit that the Iliad 
as understood by the Greeks is not identical with the Iliad 
we are capable of understanding. Nonetheless, there must 
be a "substantial identity of 'structure' which has remained 
the same throughout the ages." Again, not all the view- 
points in terms of which the "structure" is seen will be 
equally capable of grasping it most meaningfully. There- 
fore, some "hierarchy of viewpoints," a criticism of the grasp 
of norms, is implied in the concept of the "adequacy of in- 
terpretation." This dependence on a "system of norms" 
more or less completely realized by various generations of 
readers (as well as by individuals) would avoid the extremes 
of absolutism and relativism. It would seem to follow also 
that one might, after all, by knowing a good deal about the 


potentialities of literary form or structure be able to say 
that particular generations of poets or novelists or drama- 
tists held viewpoints that enabled them to make excellent 
or relatively poor use of their medium. 

The job of the critic is to help us perceive the nature and 
worth of the literary work. It is not his function to offer us 
coherent systems of philosophy, coherent theories of the 
nature of language, or even ideological systems that include 
accounts of poetry as a substitute for religion and the rela- 
tion of the poet to the economic order. He can use all the 
information he can get, but he can employ his knowledge, 
as a critic, only insofar as it is relevant to the particular work 
or works he is discussing and attempting to make more avail- 
able to the reader. Occasionally someone offers to subsume 
the study of literature under sociology which would mean 
the end of the study of literature as an art. It would be ironic 
if a few zealots in criticism managed to raise a complex edi- 
fice composed of interrelated lines of knowledge of philos- 
ophy, anthropology, and linguistics that was so massive that 
.the literary work beneath it became merely an excuse for 
cbe superstructure. Almost everyone in the twentieth cen- 
tury is looking for a kind of knowledge that will be as a 
Second Coming. It is too much to hope that such knowledge 
will arise from critical analyses, that it is resting like a genie 
in the bottle labeled the "new criticism/' In "The Function 
of Criticism," Eliot refers to a criticism that is self-serving 
as autotelic. Tate, in a more homely phrase, has compared 
such criticism to the picture^pologizing to the frame. 

Probably it is true, as some of its practitioners claim, that 
no body of criticism in the history of English and American 


literature is comparable in bulk, variety, or intensity to the 
criticism produced in our half century. Since this accom- 
plishment is likely to invite a considerable degree of smug- 
ness among those who sympathize with the movement, it 
may be well to close this survey with a little fable devised by 
Robert Penn Warren: 

Critics are rarely faithful to their labels and their special strat- 
egies. Usually the critic will confess that no one strategy the 
psychological, the moralistic, the formalistic, the historical or 
combination of strategies, will quite work the defeat of the 
poem. For the poem is like the monstrous Orillo in Boiardo's 
Orlando fnnamorato. When the sword lops off any member of 
the monster, that member is immediately rejoined to the body, 
and the monster is as formidable as ever. But the poem is even 
more formidable than the monster, for Orillo's adversary finally 
gained a victory by an astonishing feat of dexterity: he slashed 
off both the monster's arms and quick as a wink seized them and 
flung them into the river. The critic who vaingloriously trusts 
his method to account for the poem, to exhaust the poem, is try- 
ing to emulate this dexterity; he thinks that he, too, can win by 
throwing the lopped off arms into the river. But he is doomed 
to failure. Neither fire nor water will suffice to prevent the re- 
joining of the mutilated members to the monstrous torso. There 
is only one way to conquer the monster: you must eat it, bones, 
blood, skin, pelt, and gristle. And even then the monster is not 
dead, for it lives in you, is assimilated into you, and you are dif- 
ferent, and somewhat monstrous yourself, for having eaten it. 
So the monster will always win, and the critic knows this. He 
does not want to win. He knows that he must always play stooge 
to the monster. All he wants to do is to give the monster a chance 
to exhibit again his miraculous powers. 

A Selected Bibliography 

Extensive lists of books, articles, and reviews can be found 
in the following: 

Aldridge, John W. Critiques and Essays on Modern Fiction^ 

1920-1951. New York. Ronald Press Company, 1952. 
Leary, Lewis. Articles on American Literature Appearing 

in Current Periodicals, 1920-1945. Durham, N. C., Duke 

University Press, 1947. 
Millett, F. B. Contemporary American Authors. New York, 

Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1943. 
Spiller, Robert E., et al., (eds.). Literary History of the 

United States. Bibliography. New York, The Macmiilan 

Company, 1948. 
Stallman, Robert W. Critiques and Essays in Criticism^ 

1920-1948. New York, Ronald Press Company, 1949. 
. The Critic's Notebook. Minneapolis, University of 

Minnesota Press, 1950. 
Taylor, Walter F. A History of American Letters (with 

bibliographies by Harry Hartwick). New York, Ameri- 
can Book Company, 1936. 
Zabel, Morton D. Literary Opinion in America. New York, 

Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1951. 


Aiken, Conrad, 35 
America in Literature, 13 
American Criticism, 102-3 
American Humor, 82 
American Jungle, The, 84 
"American Literary Criticism and the 

Doctrine of Evolution," 51-52 
American Mercury, 29 
American Mind, The, 12 
American Prose Masters, 13 
American Renaissance, 57-58 
America's Coming of Age, 73, 79-81 
Anatomy of Negation, The, 22 
Anatomy of Nonsense, The, 105, 163 
Anthony, Katharine, 137-38 
Archetypal Patterns in Poetry, 150- 


Aristocracy and Justice, 93 

Armed Vision, The, 83 

Arnold, Matthew, 13, 162, 172 

"Art and Neurosis," 144-45 

Art for art's sake. 57 

"Art, Form and Expression," 70-71 

"Art of Fiction, The," 55, 61 

Art of the Novel, The, 62-63 

Arvin, Newton, 125, 154 

Atlantic Monthly, The, 6 

Babbitt, Irving, 15, 50, 92 ff 
Barzun, Jacques, 153 
Basler, Roy, 146-47 
Beach, Joseph Warren, 28, 74, 91, 171 
Beardsley, M.C., 165-66 
Beer, Thomas, 139 
Bell, Clive, 69-70 
Bergler, Edmund, 147 
Berryman, John, 154 
Bcsant, Walter, 61 
Beyond Life, 33 
Biographia Literaria. 161 
Blackmur, R. P., 62, 82, 109, 163-64, 

Bodkin, Maud, 150-51 

Bogan, Louise, 35, 153 

Boileau-Despreaux, Nicholas, 51, 68 

Book About Myself, A, 54 

Book of Prefaces, A, 29 

Bookman, The, 43 

Bourne, Randolph, 64, 75-77, 93-94 

Boyesen, Hjalmar, 53-55 

Boyd, Ernest, 86 

Boys in the Back Room, The f 127 

Brooks, Cleanth, 108, 157, 170 

Brooks, Van Wyck, 73-75, 77-83, 131, 


Brown Decades, The, 83 
Brownell, William Crary, 9, 13-151 

5 -5i.73 

Bruneticre, Ferdinand, 51-54 
Burke, Kenneth, 71-72, 148, 157 
Bush, Douglas, 109 

Cabell, James Branch, 29, 33-34 

Calverton, V. F., 118-19 

Canby, Henry Seidel, 74, 103 

Cantwell, Robert, 125 

Caudwell, Christopher (Christopher 

St. John Sprigg), 115 
Chapman, John Jay, 15-17 
Charvat, William, 8-9 
Chase, Richard, 153-54 
Clark, J . Scott, 49 
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 57, 64, 128, 


Coleridge on the Imagination, 158 
Collins, Seward, 76 
Comte, Auguste, 20 
Concept of Realism in the School of 

Howells, The, 6 
Confident Years, The, Hi 
Contemporary American Criticism t 


Contemporary American Novelists, 



Counter-Statement, 71 

Cowley, Malcolm, 135 

Crane, Stephen, 3 

Creative Criticism, 63-68 

Criticism, 14, 50-51 

Criticism and Fiction, 5, 38 

"Criticism as Pure Speculation," 162- 

Criticism of Criticism of Criticism, 


Critique of Humanism, A, 95 
Croce, Benedetto, 63-68, 70, 128 

Dahlberg, Edward, 140-41 

Dante, 108 

Dell, Floyd, 117 

Democratic Distinction in America, 


Demon of the Absolute, The, 96 
Demon Lover, The, 147 
De Voto, Bernard, 131 
Dial, The, 35 
" 'Difference' of Literature, The," 69- 


Dilemma of the Liberated, The, 107 
"Document and Work of Art," 69 
Do These Bones Live?, 140-41 
Double Agent, The, 163-64 
Dreiser, Theodore, 54 
Drift of Romanticism, The, 93 
Dulce, 56-58 

Eastman, Max, 87, 117 

"Economic Interpretation of History, 

The," 112-13 
Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius, 


Edwin Arlington Robinson, 106 
Eliot, T. S., 67-68, 102-3, Io6 lo8 
Elton, William, 157 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 4, 14, 57-58 
Emerson and Other Papers, 16 
"Emile Zola," 42-43 
Empson, William, 134, 154, 156, 168- 


Erotic Motive in Literature, The, 

Erskine, John, 74 
Essays on German Literature, 53 
Excavations, 32 
Exile's Return, 125 
Expense of Greatness, The, 163-64 
"Ezra Pound and Contemporary 
Criticism," 69 

Farrell, James T., 124-25 

Fergusson, Francis, 151-52 

Flowering of New England, The, Si 

Foerster, Norman, 101-4 

"Footnote on Criticism," 30 

Forbis, Dorothy M., 6 

For Lancelot Andrewes, 160 

Forces in American Criticism, 122-24 

France, Anatole, 20 

Frank, Waldo, 84-85 

French Art, 13 

French Portraits, 22 

French Traits, 13 

Freud, Sigmund, 132 ff 

Freudianism and the Literary Mind, 


Friends of Mine, 31 
Frozen Sea, The, 147-48 
Frye, Prosser Hall, 104 

Garland, Hamlin, 46 

Gates, Lewis E., 20, 48 

Gateways to Literature, 112 

Gayley, C. M., 46 

Genius of Style, The, 14, 70 

"Genteel Tradition and American 

Philosophy, The," 10-12 
Genteel Tradition at Bay, The, 97- 

Gentle Art of Making Enemies, The, 


Gestalt psychology, 149-50 
Gilder, Richard Watson, 8-9 
Gilman, Lawrence, 28 
Glossary of the New Criticism, A, 


Gold, Michael, 117 
Golden Day, The, 83 
Gourmont, Remy de, 26, 67-68, 71-7* 



Grammar of Motives, ^,164 
Grattan, Hartley, 95 
Graves, Robert, 134, 154 
Great Tradition, The, 121-24 
Gregory, Horace, 125 

Hansen, Harry, 74, 95 

Herald Tribune, The, 75, 87, 90 

Hicks, Granville, 121-24 

History of American Literature, 
1607-1865, 8 

History of English Literature, 46-49 

Hoffman, Frederick J., 132, 155 

Homage to John Dry den, 159-60, 161 

Hound and Horn, 35 

Howe, Irving, 127, 154 

Howells, WHliam Dean, 3, 5-6, 37-39 

Hulme, T. E., 157-58 

"Humanism: An Essay at Defini- 
tion," 96-97 

Humanism in America, 107 

Huneker, James Gibbons, 20, 25-28, 

Hyman, Stanley Edgar, 83 

Iconoclasts, 26 

Idea of the Theater, The, 151-52 

44 Impression ism and Appreciation," 


Inquiries and Opinions, 15 
Intent of the Critic, The, 103 
International Monthly, 51-52 
Introduction to the Methods and 

Materials of Criticism, An, 46 
Irresponstbles, The, 131 

James, Henry, 37, 47-48, 55, 58-63, 

64, 65, 66, 82-83 
Jones, Ernest. 136 
Jones, Llewellyn. 69-71 
Josephson, Matthew, 81 
Jung, Carl, 132-33, 148-54 

Kazin, Alfred, 82 

Krutch, Joseph Wood, 88-90, 139-40 

La vie litte"raire, 20 

Langer, Susanne, 150 

Le roman experimental, 40-41 

Letters and Leadership, 80-81, 94 

Levin, Harry, 127-29 

Lewis, Sinclair, 3, 4, 6-7 

Lewisohn, Ludwig, 15, 67-68, 87, 137 

Liberal Imagination, The, 129-30 

Liberation of American Literature, 

The, 119 
Life of the Spirit in Modern English 

Poets, The, 45 
Literary Fallacy, The, 131 
Literary History of America, A, 8 
Literary Mind: Its Place in an Age of 

Science, The, 117 
Literature and Insurgency, 110-11 
Literature and Revolution, 113-14 
Little Leaders, 46 
Love and Lore, 22 
Lowell, Amy, 74 
Lowell, James Russell, 8 

Mabie, Hamilton Wright, 8, 48 
MacLeish, Archibald, 131 
Macy, John, 73 
M'lle New York, 23 
Main Currents in American Litera- 
ture, 119-24 

Malady of the Ideal, The, 78 
Mammonart, 111-12 
Manuel de I'histoire de la litterature, 


Margaret Fuller, 137-38 

"Marxism and Literature," 126 

Marxist criticism, 7, iioff 

Masks and Minstrels of New Ger- 
many, 25 

Masses, The, 117 

Masters of Modern French Criticism, 
The, 50, 92 

Matthews, Brander, 8, 15-16, 44-45, 

Matthiessen, F. O.. 57-58, 139 

Maule's Curse, 106 

Mauve Decade, The, 139 

Melody of Chaos, The, 140 

Memories and Milestones, 16 



Men Seen, 34 

Mencken, H. L., 28-31 

Merry -Go-Round, The, 32 

Method of Henry James, The, 74 

Midwest Portraits, 74 

Modern Book of Criticism, A, 67-68, 


Modern Temper, The, 89-90, 107 
"Morality in Fiction," 22 
Mordcll, Albert, 136-37 
More, Paul Elmer, 71, 92 if 
Muller, Herbert J., 149 
Mumford, Lewis, 83-84, 138-39 
Munson, Gorham, 95, 107-8 

Nathan, George Jean, 28-29 

Nation, The, 88, 137 

Nature and Elements of Poetry, The, 


Neider, Charles, 1 17-48 
New American Credo, The, 31 
"New Criticism, The," 63 
New Criticism, The, 156 
New England, 8-12, 16-17 
New England: Indian Summer, 81 
New Humanists, 14-15. 76-77, 92 If 
New Laocoon, The, 92-93 
New Masses, The, 121 
New Republic, The, 90, 125 
Norris, Frank, 41-42, 48 
Norton, Charles Eliot, 8 
Note on Literary Criticism, A, 124-25 

On Being Human, 71 

On Contemporary Literature, 85 

"On Creating a Usable Past," 81 

Ong, Walter J., 167-69 

Opinions of Oliver Allston, The, 131 

Ordeal of Mark Twain, The, 81, 138 

Origins of American Critical 

Thought, 1810-1835, The, 9 
Oscar Wilde: An Idler's Impression, 

Our America, 84 

Parrington, Vernon Louis, 119-24 
Pater, Walter, 20-22 

Pattee, Fred Lewis, 8, 49 

Pavannes and Divisions, 68 

Payne, William Morton, 5, 46-47, 51- 


Peck, Harry Thurston, 42-44 

Perry, Bliss, 12,49-50, 116 

Peiry, Thomas Sargent, 6 

Personal Heresy, The, 165 

Peterson, Houston, 

Phillips, William, 118 

Philosophy in a New Key, 150 

Philosophy of Disenchantment, The, 

Philosophy of Fried rich Nietzsche, 
The, 29 

Philosophy of Literary Form, 164 

Philosophy of Rhetoric, 1.58 

Pilgrimage of Henry James, The, 81 

Platonism, 92 

Poetic Mind, The, 133-34 

Poetry 1 Magazine, 35 

Polkud, James Pcrnval, 25 

Port of New York, 3 \ 

Portrait of the Artist as American, 81 

Pound, E/ru, 67-69, 157 

Present t. Frederick C., 133-34 

Pnmitwism and Decadence, 104 

Principles of Criticism, 158 

Proletarian Literature in the United 
States, 117-18 

"Ps\choanal)sis and Literary Criti- 
cism," 155 

"Puritanism as a Literary Force," 29 

"Puritan's Will to Power, The," 135 

Quest for Myth, 153-54 

Rahv, Philip, 118 

Ransom, John Crowe, 106, 108, 162- 


Rascoc, Burton, 90 
Realism, 5, 37-39, 61-62 
Reason in Madness, 169-70 
Re-Discovery of America, The, 84 
Rcedy's Mirror, 93 
Responsibilities of the Novelist, The, 


Rhetoric of Motives, ^,164 
Richards, I. A., 134, 154, 156-58, 168- 


Riding, Laura, 134, 154 
Romance and Tragedy, 104 
Rosenfcld, Paul, 28, 34, 82 
Rourke, Constance, 82-83 
Rousseau and Romanticism, 92, 95 

Sacred Wood, The, 68, 158-59 
Sainte-Beuve, Charles Augustin, 14, 

48, i? 2 

Sakus, Edgar, 21-22, 32 
Santayana, George, 3, 9-12, 57, 97-100 
Saturday 'Review of Literature, The, 


Scepticisms^ 35 
Schorer, Mark, 170-71 
Schwartz, Delmore, 82 
Scott, F. N., 46 
Scudder, Vida, 45 
"Second Thoughts on Humanism," 


Sense of Beauty, The, 57 
Seven Arts, The, 135 
Seven Types of Ambiguity, 168 
Sex, Psychology and Literature, 146- 


Shapiro, Karl, 82 
Shelburne Essays, 92 
Sherman, Belle, 41 
Sherman, Stuart Pratt, 85-87 
Short Studies in Literature, 48 
Sinclair, Upton, 111-12 
Slochower, Harry, 116 
Smart Set, 28 
Smith, Bernard, 122-24 
Significant form, 69-70 
Speculations, 157-58 
Spencer, Herbert, 41 , 54-55 
Spingarn, Joel, 13,63-68, 115-16 
Spirit of American Literature, The, 


Standards, 14-15 
Stael, Mme de, 128, 172 
Stedman, Edmund Clarence, 5 
Stoddard, Richard, 8 

Straws and Prayerbooks, 33 
Studies in Appreciation, 23-24 
Studies in the History of the Renais- 
sance, 21 

Studies in Several Literatures, 43 
Symonds, John Addington, 78 
Symposium, The, 35 

Taine, Hippolyte, 46-51, 119, 126, 
128, 172 

Tate, Allen, 95, 169-170, 174 

Taylor, Bayard, 8 

Tendencies in Modern American 
Poetry, 74 

"Tension in Poetry," 170 

Theory of Literature, 173-74 

Thompson, Vance, 22-23 

Thoreau, Henry David, 57-58 

Times of Melville and Whitman, 

Tindall, William York, 149 

Torch, The, 13 

Towards Standards, 102 

Town Topics, 25 

"Tradition and the Individual Tal- 
ent," 68, 159 

Trent. William Peterfield, 8 

Trilling, Lionel, 108, 129-30, 132, 


Triple Thinkers, The, 126, 141, 145 
Trotsky, Leon, 113-14 
Tro\, William, 151-52 
Turgeiuev, Ivan, 6 
Tu'o Phases of Criticism, 16 

Undcnvood, John Curtis, no-u 
Usable past, 83 
Ut.le, 56-58 

Van Doren, Carl, 68, 74-75. 87 
Van Doren, Mark, 74-75, 88-89, l66 
\an D>ke. Henry, 6-7 
Van Vechten, Carl, 19, 31 
"Visit to Walt Whitman, A," 27 

Walt Whitman, 12 
Warren, Austin, 172-74 



Warren, Robert Penn, 108, 157, 165- 

66, 170-71, 175 
Weaver, Raymond, 138-39 
Well Wrought Urn, The, 170 
Wellek, Rene, 172-74 
Wendell, Barrett, 8 
West, Ray, 69 
Wharton, Edith, 62 
Wheelwright, Philip, 152 
Whistler, James McNeill, 57 
Wilde, Oscar, 22, 25 
Wilson, Edmund, 73, 95, 126-27, 141- 


Wimsatt, W. K., 165-66 
Winds of Doctrine, 10 
Wine of the Puritans, 78 
Winter, William, 8 

Winters, Yvor, 104-6, 121, 156 

Wood berry, George, 8, 13 

World in False face, The, 31 

World of H. G. Wells, The, 78 

World of Washington Irving, The, Si 

Wormhoudt, Arthur, 147 

Wound and the Bow, The, 127, 141- 


Wright, Willard Huntington, 28 
Writer and Psychoanalysis, The, 147 
Writing of Fiction, The, 62 

Young, Stark, 71 

Zabel, Morton D., 122, 171 
Zola, Emile, 3, 4 1- 44 53